Reports from China's western Qinghai Province say hundreds or even thousands of Tibetans marched on government offices Friday. The protests come amid attempts by China's government to maintain social stability during a political transition.
Tibetans marched on government offices in Rebkong, a region of eastern Tibet, after a series of self-immolations that drew international attention. Estimates ranged from hundreds to thousands of protesters who began gathering on the streets at 5:00 a.m. Many said they were speaking out against China's education system.
"Our sources have confirmed that many of the students have been calling for freedom of language and for the return of his Holiness," said Stephanie Brigden, executive director of rights group Free Tibet.
Mass protests in Rebkong also occurred in 2010, when demonstrators spoke out against China's plans to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the language of instruction in local schools.
Tibetans protest in the Rongwo Township in Rebkhong County in western China's Qinghai province, November 9, 2012.
"They're having to make a difficult choice about what language they choose to study, because if they have to access future education opportunities, particularly higher education, and then employment opportunities, then they need to study in Chinese. If they choose to study in their own language, this will marginalize them in the future," Brigden added.
This month the United Nations' most senior human rights official urged China to allow independent monitors and journalists to visit Tibetan areas where immolations have taken place. On Friday, regional representatives attending the People's Congress in Beijing rejected the proposal.
Qiangba Puncog, a chief delegate from the Tibet Autonomous Region, said that China does not welcome some people, who think Tibet has many problems, human rights issues. He added that most Chinese officials do not think it is appropriate for rights officials to come to Tibet to conduct an investigation.
Tibet Self-Immolation Map, October 23, 2012 update
Reports indicate the protesters are mostly students and monks. While security forces have not yet intervened in the protests, police and armed forces have reportedly been deployed outside major Chinese government offices where people are demonstrating.
On Thursday Tibetans gathered in the same area to mourn at the funeral of Kalsang Jinpa, who set himself on fire to protest China's policies on Tibet. Witnesses say the 18-year-old raised a banner calling for the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet. There have been three self-immolations in Rebkong just this month.