UPDATE February 17: According to updated information received by ICT, the three self-immolations by herders in Serthar on February 3 have not been confirmed and it appears they did not happen. In a note on her blog about the reports, Tibetan writer Woeser said: “In the book ‘Tibet: 2008’, I wrote that in the record of all the violence that happened in U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo in 2008, ‘There are many things that few people know about. There are many truths that it is not clear how many people know. Information coming in from Kham, in some distant places such as grasslands in the nomadic areas of Serthar County and Shiqu County, massacres like those in a war took place.’ And today, four years later, it is still like this. […] As it was in Tibetan areas in 2008, ‘There are many things that few people know about. There are many truths that it is not clear how many people know.’ And as we describe the extraordinary life event of a body self-immolating, all we can clearly describe is the time, place, person (name, age, status) of the incident. And therefore, as of today, when describing the February 27 2009 self-immolation by Tapey through to the February 13 self-immolation by Losang Gyatso, and before receiving any reliable confirmation, we can no longer raise the three self-immolation incidents in Serthar.”

The Serthar area of eastern Tibet remains under tight lockdown after various organizations reported the self-immolation of three Tibetan herders, including a 60-year old man, set themselves on fire on Friday (February 3).

The self-immolations reportedly occurred in a remote village in Serthar (Chinese: Seda), Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, close to the border with Golog (Chinese: Guoluo) in Qinghai. Radio Free Asia reported that as they set themselves on fire, the Tibetans called for freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. (RFA, 4 February 2012). The self-immolations were denied by the Chinese authorities.

Global Times, an English-language newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party, cited local officials as saying that no self-immolations had taken place recently, although it confirmed that internet connections had been blocked in the area. (Global Times, 6 February 2012). Global Times reported cited Wang Yongkang, secretary of Serthar county’s Party committee, as saying: “’Everything is all right here, although we still have no Internet access,’ said Wang, who said there had been rumors saying some Tibetans were going to set themselves on fire, but ‘it has not happened.’”

In a separate Global Times report, the authorities acknowledged attempts to impose an information blackout in areas of eastern Tibet where protests (characterized by the authorities as ‘riots’) have occurred over the past few weeks, met by a violent crackdown. The Global Times reported: “After the riots, Internet connections and mobile phone signals were cut off for over 50 kilometers around the riot areas.” (Global Times, 3 February 2012).

Serthar was among three areas of Sichuan province where Tibetans protested against Chinese rule in recent weeks and were met by a violent crackdown. Vivid images of armed police response to a protest by Tibetans in Serthat (the Tibetan area of Kham), on January 24 a can be viewed here. The images, which show a Tibetan man being beaten and dragged along the ground by armed police, were taken on the day that police opened fire on Tibetan demonstrators, killing one Tibetan man. The man who died has been named by Tibetan sources as Dawa Dragpa, and a vigil was held for him in Serthar on February 1.

Tibetan sources said that the town square in Serthar was “covered in blood” on January 24, after police opened fire on a crowd of Tibetans. (View photos here.) Tibetan sources in exile said that hundreds of Tibetans gathered peacefully, and armed police did not take any immediate action. But after some time, tear-gas was fired and police started shooting into the crowd. One exile source said: “Tibetans were running everywhere to escape. There were Chinese taxi-drivers and other Chinese who had been in the area too were running with them away from the troops. Some couldn’t run away because they were too seriously injured.” According to various exile sources in contact with Tibetans in the region, leaflets or posters had been disseminated that were either similar or the same to those distributed in Draggo (Chinese: Luohuo) on January 23, encouraging Tibetans not to celebrate the New Year, but to mark it by mourning (ICT report, Three Tibetans shot dead on first day of Chinese New Year – 23 January 2012).