BEIJING — Two young Tibetan monks set themselves on fire on Monday at an embattled monastery in western China to protest Chinese policies in the area, according to a Tibet advocacy group. The monks were apparently taken to a hospital, and it was unclear what condition they were in on Monday night.
The monastery, Kirti, in a remote area of Sichuan Province, has been the site of at least four recent self-immolations, including the two on Monday.
The latest monks to set themselves on fire were Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchok, both estimated to be 18 or 19, according to Free Tibet, the advocacy group, which is based outside China and often tries to gather its information from people within the Tibetan areas. Lobsang Kalsang is the brother of Phuntsog, a young monk from the same monastery who killed himself in March by setting himself on fire.
The advocacy group said the two monks called for religious freedom and shouted “Long live the Dalai Lama!” before they self-immolated.
Calls seeking comment made to the main security office in the county of Aba, or Ngaba in Tibetan, went unanswered.
Kirti Monastery was a locus of protests during the Tibetan uprising in spring 2008 that began with rallies and rioting in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. At the time, at least 10 people were shot dead in Aba by security forces, according to reports by Tibet advocacy groups and photographic evidence gathered by monks at Kirti’s sister monastery in Dharamsala, India.
Tensions continued to simmer, then reached another peak when Phuntsog, 20, set himself on fire on March 16. In the weeks afterward, security forces encircled the monastery. On April 12, laypeople began gathering at the main gate to try to prevent the authorities from harming the monks or taking them away en masse, but six days later the security forces entered the monastery and took away 300 monks. Some reports said two laypeople were killed trying to stop the detentions.
In late August and early September, a local court sentenced three monks, one an uncle of Phuntsog, to sentences of 10, 11 and 13 years each in prison for what the authorities said were their roles in causing or aiding Phuntsog’s death.
At the time, the State Department issued a release after the sentencing of one of the monks that said, “It is unclear whether he was accorded the procedural rights to which he is entitled under China’s Constitution and laws, and under international standards.”
Phuntsog was the first monk to kill himself by self-immolation to protest Chinese rule, according to historians of modern Tibet. In February 2009, another monk from Kirti, Tapey, set himself on fire, but he survived after security officials put out the flames. In 1998, a Tibetan layman living in exile in India, Thubten Ngodup, burned himself to death to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Further underscoring the political tensions, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing on Monday rejected an assertion made by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, that he will decide how his reincarnation is chosen.
The Dalai Lama, 76, said on Saturday that he would leave clear written instructions on how the reincarnation will be found. Around age 90, he said, he will consult with other Tibetan Buddhist leaders to see whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue.
In recent years, the Dalai Lama has suffered bouts of ill health, which have stirred concerns among Tibetans about his future role. Tibetans in exile recently elected a layperson, Lobsang Sangay, as prime minister; he is in charge of the political side of the exile movement.
The Chinese government, ruled by the Communist Party and officially atheist, has long asserted that it has the right to approve any reincarnations of the Dalai Lama.
“I would like to point out the title of the Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government and is otherwise illegal,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, said at a news conference on Monday, according to The Associated Press. “There has never been a practice of the Dalai Lama identifying his own successor.”