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VOA Denies Chinese Allegations on Tibetan Self-Immolations

The Voice of America has denied Chinese government allegations that the broadcaster is encouraging Tibetan protesters to set themselves on fire.

Those allegations were made by the official China Daily newspaper and by Chinese state television. They also accused VOA of using an unspecified secret code to send messages to people inside Tibet at the direction of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

VOA Director David Ensor called the allegations "absurd" and "totally false." He called on the Chinese media to retract their stories.

Both VOA's English-language and Tibetan-language programs have provided extensive coverage of the nearly 100 Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009 to protest alleged Chinese repression in their region.

Ensor called the self-immolation stories "tragic" and a sign of distress in Tibet.

"We report about them, but do not encourage them, absolutely not."

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.

VOA 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 is a totally autonomous agency within the U.S. government. We are not directed or influenced by the Dalai Lama's office or the Tibetan government-in-exile, or any NGO related to the Tibetan movement."

Last October, 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 criticized 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 that 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.

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