The Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, reported Monday, the official start of the Chinese New Year, that Chinese officials fired at a group of around 30 Tibetan protesters in China's Sichuan province, reportedly killing as many as six people and wounding several others.
The shootings were apparently in response to a protest organized in support of other Tibetans who were arrested for their plans to self-immolate over what they see as religious persecution in their ongoing struggle to free Tibet from China's control.
Although violent clashes have experienced a cooldown in recent years, tensions between Tibetan supporters and the Chinese government, which refuses to grant them anonymity, have continued, and Monday's attack escalated in the most deadly incident since 2008, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Chinese officials were apparently made aware of the self-immolation plans when they found pamphlets calling for other Tibetans to join the cause – the pieces of literature even included the names of some of the activists who had pledged to set themselves on fire. Thirty-one people in total were said to have been shot at, but it is unclear exactly how many were actually killed and wounded.
The International Campaign for Tibet, a pro-Tibet activist group based in Washington D.C., shared with The Christian Post a report released by Radio Free Asia, suggesting that six people were indeed killed. According to Lobsang Khyentse, an India-based Tibetan reporter citing contacts in the region, the pamphlets read:
"We Tibetans have no freedom, and this year several Tibetans have sacrificed their lives. So on the occasion of Chinese New Year, I am going to self-immolate. I urge all the Tibetan people to prevent the Chinese from taking my dead body."
An official press statement from the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile expressed that it was also aware of conflicting reports about the number of people killed in the incident, and said it was ascertaining the facts.
Elaborating on some of the sacrifices the Tibetan people have gone through in recent times, the government acknowledged a Buddhist monk named Tapey who set himself on fire in 2009, which prompted 17 others to follow in the same steps, with 12 of them dying from their injuries.
"Tibetans have resorted to this desperate act out of sheer frustration against the policies and programs of the Chinese authorities aimed at eradicating the Tibetan identity," the statement explained.
The piece went on to condemn the Chinese authorities for the shootings, and questioned why other countries have not shown a stronger response to the act of violence: "While understanding the international community's interest in maintaining closer relationship with China, how can the international community remain mute to the sufferings of the Tibetan people."
The Chinese government has insisted that it is respecting the religious freedoms of the Tibetan people, which it sees as an important part of its vision of a "unified China." Many organizations, however, such as the U.K.-based Free Tibet activist group, have written articles trying to expose the fallacy of such claims. On the group's website, the organization says that Chinese officials cite the many temples, monasteries, nuns and monks that visitors see as an example of free religion.
However, not all is as it seems, the statement reveals:
"What visitors cannot see is the complex system of administrative control and restrictions which make it virtually impossible for Tibetans to practice their religion in a meaningful way. What they don't see is the coercion, the culture of surveillance, the threats, the monks and nuns who are in prison for freely exercising their beliefs."
Chinese officials have been quick to condemn any international acts of aiding Tibet or its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and have been watchful especially of attempts from Tibetans to gather and protest the Chinese government in neighboring countries.
On the same day of the attacks in China, another 65 Tibetans were arrested while travelling on a bus from India to Nepal, where they allegedly were planning a larger protest. According to Zeenews India, 2,500 Tibetans enter Nepal every year without having the proper documents, on their way to meet the Dalai Lama.