BEIJING -- At least five Tibetans have set fire to themselves in recent days to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan regions, while at least five Tibetan students were in critical condition and 15 others were being treated for injuries after security forces cracked down on a large protest in western China on Monday, according to reports by Radio Free Asia and Free Tibet, an advocacy group.
The protest took place in an area of Qinghai Province that the Chinese call Hainan Autonomous Prefecture, and that Tibetans call Tsolho. More than 1,000 Tibetans, mostly students and teachers, took to the streets to demand equal rights for ethnic minorities and the freedom to study and use the Tibetan language. Several reports said the protest began after local officials distributed a booklet that condemned Tibetans who had self-immolated and that belittled the Tibetan language.
With the five recent self-immolations, at least 22 Tibetans have set fire to themselves this month alone, and 86 since 2009, according to Radio Free Asia. The first case was a monk from Kirti Monastery, which became the heart of the self-immolations last year and earlier this year, though the acts have since become more widespread and now constitute one of the largest such phenomena anywhere in the world in recent memory. The latest four cases were reported Sunday and Monday in the western China provinces of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai, which all have significant Tibetan populations.
The students who protested Monday were from the Chabcha Sorig Lobling School, according to Free Tibet. They gathered at 5:40 a.m. and marched peacefully into the town of Chabcha. Chinese security forces began a violent crackdown at 9 a.m., the report said. "It's still unclear what happened next, but many young students were so badly injured they were taken straight to hospital," Free Tibet said. Security forces locked down the town, the group added. Radio Free Tibet reported that security forces fired tear gas and beat students with rifle butts, arresting four.
The events could not be independently confirmed; Chinese officials have barred foreign journalists from traveling to the sites of protests or self-immolations by Tibetans. Phone calls made Tuesday to offices of the prefecture government and party committee went unanswered. A woman answering a call on the prefecture emergency hot line said she had not heard of any protests.
Radio Free Asia, which is financed by the United States government, said the school in Chabcha, known as Gonghe in Chinese, trained students in medicine. The booklet that inspired the protests was called "Ten Real Views of Tsolho Area," and the medical students burned all the copies given to them and "called for equality among nationalities and freedom to study the Tibetan language," according to a person who was quoted anonymously by Radio Free Asia.
Moves by officials in Qinghai to restrict the use of the Tibetan language, particularly in classrooms, have resulted in protests by students before. The northeast Tibetan region that Qinghai encompasses, generally called Amdo, is historically an area known for Tibetan scholarship and the production of cultural works. Even today, poets, writers and singers in Qinghai create works in the Tibetan language that are distributed widely across the Tibetan world.
Mia Li contributed research.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.