Two Tibetan teenagers died after setting themselves on fire on Tuesday in what is believed to be a protest at Chinese rule, according to reports on Wednesday by advocacy group Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The former primary school classmates were named as Sonam Dargye,18, and a 17-year-old Rinchen by the US-based and financed RFA.
Both died on the spot and their bodies have been taken home by their families.
“The two boys were residents of Kyangtsa town,” Tibetan monks Kanyag Tsering and Lobsang Yeshi said from India’s hill town Dharamsala where they live in exile, “and they died in the protest against Chinese policy in Tibet.”
“It is not clear what they specifically demanded before they succumbed to their burns,” the monks added.
The teenagers killed themselves in Ngaba Prefecture — or Aba in Chinese — in China’s Sichuan province. The region has a largest Tibetan population and has been at the center of the self-immolation protests.
According to the New York Times, the pair are among the youngest Tibetans to kill themselves of the 104 that have self-immolated in protest since 2009. That statement is affirmed by the International Campaign for Tibet advocacy group who say 20 of the 104 Tibetans who have self-immolated so far were 18 years old or under that age.
Adding to the horror of their deaths is the fact that the teens self-immolated together. It’s a rare demonstration of the kind of extreme suicides that have unfortunately become fairly common among exiled Tibetans.
Following a 2008 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, tensions between the Tibetans and Chinese officials have been on a constant edge across the Tibetan plateau. As a result, officials have deployed large numbers of security forces all over the region.
Stephanie Brigden, director of the London-based campaign group Free Tibet, which also reported the deaths, said the teenagers’ self-immolations “show that despite China’s recent crackdown, this form of protest is likely to remain a feature of the Tibetan response to Chinese occupation in 2013.”
“It also highlights the plight of Tibet’s children, who face all the challenges of life under oppression, and are often full participants in the struggle to resist it.”
Dicki Chhoyang, Minister of Information and International Relations in the Dharamsala-based Tibetan exile government, says the self-immolations “are sending an unequivocal message to the world about the gravity of the situation in Tibet.”
On Tuesday, Chhoyang told attendees at a meeting in Geneva ahead of the 2013 UN Human Rights Council session, that China must be held accountable to the pledges it made to the world body to improve its human rights record.
“What we hear are numbers, but behind each number there are really people like you and me.”
The teens’ self-immolations followed the reported Sunday death of 49-year-old Namlha Tsering in the middle of a street in Xiahe county in the northwestern province of Gansu, RFA added.
The non-profit organization displayed a photograph of a man purported to be Namlha Tsering engulfed in flames, sitting in the road with his legs crossed on its website. “Free Tibet” screamed the man, who was also known as Hoba. He was survived by a wife and four sons.
Many Tibetans in China and elsewhere have accused China’s government of religious and political repression, economic marginalization, environmental recklessness, and the erosion of their culture.
However, Beijing has rejected such criticisms, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and the benefits of the modernization program their rule has brought to Tibet, Agence France-Presse reports.
Nevertheless, Chinese authorities recently stepped up a crack down on the protests by arresting those it believes are inciting the self-immolations. Those arrested are then prosecuted for murder.
Beijing has also accused the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his “clique” of inciting such acts to further a separatist agenda. But the Dalai Lama says he is seeking greater autonomy rather than Tibetan independence.
The Nobel laureate fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising, and has based himself in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala ever since, AFP added.