BEIJING — Three ethnic Tibetans set themselves on fire in the Chinese province of Sichuan on Friday, according to a rights group report over the weekend that if correct would bring the total number of self-immolations to 19 in less than a year.
The self-immolations are said to be in protest of Beijing’s policies toward Tibetan culture and religion, which critics describe as ranging from repressive to brutal.
Chinese officials regularly blame the protests and other discontent in Tibetan regions on plots by outside agitators led by the Dalai Lama.
Since last March, the 19 fiery displays of discontent have resulted in at least 13 deaths, by rights groups’ accounts. They centered on two prefectures in north Sichuan, tracts of mountain land that, like Tibet itself, are called autonomous areas but are in practice tightly controlled by Chinese government and security offices.
There were scant details available about the three who reportedly burned themselves on Friday morning. An advocacy group based in London, Free Tibet, said in a release that one of the Tibetans died and the two others were believed to have lived after the incident in Ganzi Prefecture, known in Tibetan as Kardze.
The majority of those who’ve committed self-immolations have been current or former Tibetan Buddhist monks, but it’s not clear whether that was the case on Friday.
“The whereabouts and well-being of the two who survived … are not known,” said the announcement by Free Tibet, which has an extensive network of contacts in the area. Free Tibet said that one of the survivors was about 60 years old, and the other in his early 30s.
“The identity of the Tibetan who died is unknown as are the details surrounding the self-immolations,” the statement said.
A report Saturday by U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia cited unnamed sources as confirming the three self-immolations. The station noted that “a clampdown in communications by Chinese authorities” made information difficult to track.
Chinese police have set up roadblocks throughout the region and refused entry to foreign media trying to resolve conflicting versions of events from rights groups and the government.