The Voice of America has denied Chinese allegations that VOA is encouraging Tibetan protesters to set themselves on fire.
The allegations were made by the official China Daily newspaper and a program broadcast by Chinese state television, CCTV. VOA Director David Ensor said the allegations were totally false and called on China Daily and CCTV to retract their stories.
The CCTV program included a segment showing a man in a hospital bed identified as a Tibetan who tried to self-immolate but failed. The man was depicted saying he set himself on fire after watching VOA.
“I did it after watching VOA,” he told the CCTV interviewer. “I saw the photographs of self-immolators being commemorated. They were treated like heroes.”
VOA Director Ensor said the allegations were “totally false,” adding that the self-immolations are tragic and a sign of distress in Tibet. “We report them. We certainly don’t encourage them,” Ensor said.
Ensor also noted that the CCTV program accused VOA of using secret code to send messages to people inside Tibet at the direction of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama - a charge he called “absurd.”
VOA’s Tibetan Service chief, Losang Gyatso, also denied that any news reports were influenced by the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile. He noted that VOA Tibetan's news reports often present the views of Chinese officials.
VOA has provided extensive coverage of the nearly 100 Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009.
In October 2012, VOA reported that China began offering large cash rewards for information on those planning or encouraging self-immolations.
Two months later, the Tibetan government-in-exile slammed China's arrests of a monk and his nephew on charges of inciting eight Tibetans to self-immolate near the flashpoint Kirti monastery in southwest Sichuan province. At that time, an exile government spokesman warned that any Chinese measures further stifling "the voice of the Tibetan people" would only make matters worse for "desperate" Tibetans.
Last week, China convicted the two Tibetans of "intentional homicide," condemning the 40-year-old monk to death with a two-year reprieve, a sentence that often amounts to life in prison. The 31-year-old nephew was given a 10-year prison term.
Many Tibetans in China and elsewhere accuse the Beijing government of an ongoing campaign of religious persecution. Critics also point to the massive influx of ethnic Han Chinese into historically Tibetan regions and say the growing Chinese presence threatens the continuing existence of Tibetan customs and culture.
China flatly rejects those accusations. Beijing routinely boasts of huge infrastructure investments in Tibetan areas, and says they have measurably improved the standard of living for Tibetans.