BEIJING (AP) — A mother of four has become the latest Tibetan to burn herself to death to protest government policies in Tibetan areas of China, an overseas activist group said Sunday.
London-based Free Tibet said the woman, identified as Rinchen, set herself on fire Sunday in front of a police station by the main gate to the Kirti Monastery in Aba prefecture in Sichuan province. It said the 32-year-old mother of four young children died at the scene.
More than 20 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the last year to protest what they say are harsh Chinese policies that do not allow them to freely practice their religion.
Tibetan areas are mostly off limits to foreign media and it was not possible to immediately confirm Free Tibet's claim.
Rinchen's reported death comes on the eve of the opening of China's annual legislative session, where the government has minority groups dress in traditional costumes to show national unity.
March is also a sensitive time for Tibet, marking several anniversaries, including that of the unsuccessful revolt against China that caused Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to flee in 1959, and deadly anti-government riots that rocked Lhasa in 2008.
Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said the self-immolation was the result of repression and attempts to assimilate Tibetans into Han Chinese culture.
"Tibetans are living under de facto martial law. China's response to protests — which are increasingly widespread — has been to intensify repression and surveillance, pushing Tibet deeper into crisis," she said in a statement.
China says it treats minority groups such as Tibetans fairly, and pours tens of billions of dollars into improving living conditions in their areas.
The government has also accused the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetans of being behind the protests and self-immolations.
Kirti has become the center of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule, and many of the nearly two dozen Tibetans who set themselves on fire in the past year were monks or former monks from the area.