Chinese police reportedly have detained hundreds of people as part of a security lockdown in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, after two people set themselves on fire there earlier this week to protest Chinese rule.
The U.S. government-backed Radio Free Asia cited a local source late Wednesday as saying that Chinese authorities have locked up about 600 Tibetan residents. It said many others from outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region have been expelled.
On Sunday, two young men set themselves on fire outside Lhasa's famous Jokhang Temple, in the first such incident to take place in the heavily guarded Tibetan capital. State media say one of the protesters died at the scene, while the other was hospitalized.
The crackdown comes as exile groups reported Wednesday that a mother of three young children in a largely Tibetan area of southwestern China died after setting herself on fire, in an another apparent protest against Chinese rule.
The protester, identified as Rikyo, 33, died in front of the Jonang Dzamthang monastery in a prefecture known by Tibetans as Ngaba and located in Sichuan Province.
The head of the Jonang Welfare Association, Tsangyang Gyatso, says the protester was a neighbor of three young Tibetans who set themselves on fire earlier this year while demanding the safe return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Anti-China protests have rocked southwestern China and neighboring Tibet for the past 14 months, as Buddhist monks, nuns and their supporters push their demands for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.
John Powers, a professor of Asian studies at Australian National University says that many Tibetans feel the self-immolations are necessary because an unofficial state of martial law in their region has restricted other ways of expressing dissatisfaction.
"The Chinese state has upped the level of oppression so much that now it's really only possible to stage individual protests, and that's one of the reasons why these very public, very dramatic self-immolations are taking place - because the Tibetans really have no other options," Powers said.
China says the immolations incite separatism and are directed from outside the country. But representatives of the Dalai Lama, who lives in northern India, say protesters are driven to self-immolate in large part because they can no longer tolerate Beijing's ongoing push against Tibetan culture and religion.
This week's immolations follow a new Chinese move to ban Tibetan Buddhists, including current and former government officials, students, and party members, from engaging in religious practices during the sacred month of Saka Dawa, which began May 21. Saka Dawa commemorates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death.