BEIJING (Reuters) - A total of seven Tibetans have set fire to themselves in the past week in protest against what they claim is heavy-handed Chinese rule in the Himalayan region, a human rights group said in a statement issued late on Saturday.
Cousins Tsepo, 20, and Tenzin, 25, set themselves aflame outside a government building in Driru County, north of regional capital Lhasa on Thursday, London-based group Free Tibet said.
Tsepo died on the way to hospital and Tenzin was taken away by officials, Free Tibet said. His whereabouts are unknown.
Last week saw the highest number of self-immolations since the latest wave of anti-China demonstrations began in 2011, the group said. Since March last year, nearly 60 people have set themselves on fire in protest against Beijing. At least half of them have died.
“It has taken two days for information about this latest protest to emerge,” Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said in a statement.
“Across Tibet, the Chinese state is employing force and intimidation to quell calls for freedom and suppress information about protests.”
China has 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 brands the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist, but he denies supporting violence and says he merely seeks greater autonomy for his homeland, which he claims is a victim of Chinese “cultural genocide”.
Activists say China tramples on religious freedom and culture in Tibet, which has been ruled with an iron rod since the 1950 takeover. China rejects such criticism, saying its rule ended serfdom and brought development to a backward area.
Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Daniel Magnowski