BEIJING (AP) — A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in western China and was beaten by security forces as they put out the flames, a rights group said, marking the latest in a series of dramatic protests against China's handling of its vast Tibetan areas.
Lobsang Gyatso, a 19-year-old monk from the Kirti monastery in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture, set himself ablaze on Aba's main street Monday afternoon, the London-based International Campaign for Tibet said.
Security forces beat Gyatso while extinguishing the flames, then took him away, the group said in an online statement posted late Monday. It was not immediately clear whether he survived.
Two Tibetans who tried to help Gyatso were severely beaten by police, ICT's statement said.
According to ICT, 20 Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople have set themselves on fire in China over the past year, with at least 13 dying from their injuries. The self-immolations have occurred with increasing frequency in recent weeks, with most taking place in Sichuan's remote and mountainous Tibetan areas.
An official with the local Communist Party's propaganda department in Aba said he was unaware of the latest case. He referred media to China's official Xinhua News Agency or the Foreign Ministry for reports about self-immolations, saying that only they were authorized to release such news.
Like many Chinese bureaucrats, the official would give only his surname, Bai.
There was no immediate report from Xinhua confirming the case. A duty officer with the Foreign Ministry said she would look into it but had no immediate information to share.
Western reporters trying to visit that part of Sichuan have been turned away by security forces.
Activist groups say the self-immolations are a protest against China's policies and a call for the return of the Tibetans' spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled from the Himalayan region to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
The Chinese government has condemned the self-immolations and says an upsurge in violence in Tibetan areas, including some deadly clashes between Tibetan protesters and security forces, are being instigated by forces outside the country wanting to separate Tibet from China.