A Tibetan man has died after self-immolating on Wednesday in the western province of Sichuan, according to US-backed Radio Free Asia and rights groups.

Tsekho Tukchak, a man in his 40s, set himself on fire at around 5pm in the town of Meruma. The town is in Ngaba county – known as Aba county in Chinese. Tukchak died at the scene, according to Meuruma Kungyam, a Tibetan living in Australia speaking to RFA.

Tsekho Tukchak. Photo: RFA.

His protest took place amid a buildup to the anniversary of the March 10 Tibetan uprising in 1959. The date also marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of 2008 protests. Overseas NGO the International Campaign for Tibet said there has been increased security leading up to the anniversary, with a series a military drills and the presence of troops in riot gear at prayer festivals.

According to Kungyam, who is from the same town as Tukchak, Tukchak called out “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet” at the time of his self-immolation.

“The self-immolation was a protest against China’s repressive policy in Tibet,” Kungyam said.

He added that the Chinese authorities have blocked internet services and increased security forces in Meruma ready to crack down on large gatherings.

Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Since the wave of self-immolations in Tibet began in Ngaba, Tsekho Tugchak’s home area, the Chinese authorities have responded by intensifying the military buildup and repression… It is unthinkable that China can continue to block all independent investigations and requests of access to Tibet and impose a regime of fear and repression.”

Lobsang Sangay, the president of the Tibetan government in exile, expressed deep concern over reports of Tukchak’s protest.

“Despite repeated appeals from the Central Tibetan Administration not to resort to drastic measures such as self-immolation, at least 152 Tibetans including Tsekho have set themselves on fire since 2009 in Tibet,” he said.

“Such sacrifices by Tibetans in Tibet evidences that repression in Tibet under the Chinese rule is making lives unlivable.”

Free Tibet Director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said: “Chinese authorities are quick to complain about its ‘hurt feelings’ whenever anyone mentions Tibet or human rights. Yet Tibetans suffer far more tangible pain on a daily basis.  Every time a politician or a company defers to one of China’s melodramatic objections, they are telling the world that they believe a Tibetan life is worth less than the Chinese government’s feelings. We cannot just stand by and condone this callous indifference.”

In March 2008, protests in Lhasa marking the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising 49 years earlier escalated into violence, causing embarrassment as China prepared to host the Olympics in Beijing.

China has ruled Tibet since the 1950s, and has been accused of trying to eradicate its Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression. Tukchak’s self-immolation was the first reported case this year.

Chinese authorities say Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and that they brought economic growth to the region and liberated the people from serfdom.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.