Two Tibetan teenagers have died after setting fire to themselves in southwest China, bringing the total number of Tibetans who have self-immolated in protest at Chinese rule of their homeland to more than 50 since 2009, a rights group said Tuesday.
The pair, one an 18-year-old Buddhist monk and the other a 17-year-old former monk, died on Monday after setting themselves on fire outside the Kirti monastery in Ngaba, a heavily Tibetan part of the Sichuan province, the London-based Free Tibet group said.
“Free Tibet has grave concerns for the well being of the hundreds of Tibetans who we know are in detention following protests,” Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said.
“Tibetans’ fundamental human rights are being ignored by international leaders who are afraid of risking their relationships with China.”
“The time has come for each one of us to speak up and demand Tibetan freedom,” Brigden added.
Their protest brings to 51 the number of Tibetans who have set themselves alight since 2009, when the burnings first began, Free Tibet said in an emailed statement dated Aug. 27.
At least half of them are believed by rights groups to have died, while scores of other Tibetans have been reported detained by security forces after protests that follow the burnings.
Free Tibet said one of the monks, Damchoek, who like many Tibetans used only one name, was the brother of Tenzin Choedon, a teenage nun who set fire to herself in February this year.
China has accused the Dalai Lama -- who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and is vilified as a “separatist” by Communist authorities -- of encouraging the protests.
The Dalai Lama has himself condemned self-immolations, which many Buddhists believe are contrary to their faith, but blamed them on hardline Chinese rule of Tibetan-populated areas.
Tibetans have long chafed under China’s rule over the vast Tibetan plateau, saying that Beijing has curbed religious freedoms and their culture is being eroded by an influx of Han Chinese, the country’s main ethnic group.
Beijing, however, says that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China’s economic expansion.
China has previously branded the self-immolators “terrorists” and criminals, and has blamed the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama, for inciting them.
Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, while he says he merely seeks greater autonomy for his Himalayan homeland, and denies supporting violence.
Activists say China tramples on religious freedom and culture in Tibet, which has been ruled with an iron rod by the Chinese since 1950. China rejects such criticism, saying its rule ended serfdom and brought development to a backward area.