Police in central China are denying that a woman set herself on fire earlier this month to protest Chinese rule in Tibet, saying instead she was murdered by her husband who later set the body on fire.
Tuesday's Communist Party-controlled Global Times quoted a police official in Aba, in Sichuan province, as saying the husband, Dolma Kyab, strangled his wife, following a fight about his alcohol addiction.
The official says the man burned her gasoline-drenched body a day later, adding he was "certain the case was not a protest against Chinese policy," as earlier reported by several international news outlets and Tibetan exile groups.
Both the Britain-based Free Tibet and the U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet quoted local sources as saying Kunchoek Wangmo set herself on fire on March 13, in what appeared to be the latest in an intensifying wave of politically motivated self-immolation protests.
Both organizations said the husband had been arrested, as the Global Times confirmed. But they said he was only arrested after refusing to blame his wife's self-immolation on family problems.
In an interview with VOA, Free Tibet Media Officer Alistair Currie said he is "very skeptical" of the Chinese report, noting that Beijing regularly tries to dismiss the political motivation for self-immolations.
"The Chinese state has had a propaganda approach in the past few months of trying to denigrate those who self-immolate. We've heard about people who self-immolate being drunk, we've heard about them having various personal problems, none of which there is any independent evidence to support," says Currie. "So the natural and appropriate response to this is very deep skepticism -- this fits with a pattern of how China has responded recently to these events," he said.
Currie says Free Tibet is confident in the information it receives regarding self-immolations, but that it will "seek further corroboration and further information" from sources inside Tibet.
Bhuchung Tsering, a spokesman for the International Campaign for Tibet, said the Chinese government needs to look at what is really happening in Tibet rather than spread stories based on its political needs.
More than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 to protest Beijing's policy in their homeland. China denies it is repressing Tibetans and says the suicide protests are acts of terrorism.
In the past few months, the Chinese government has employed intensified tactics to discourage the protests, detaining and jailing people it says have incited the unrest. It has also harshly cracked down on those spreading information about the protests.
On Tuesday, state media said a court in Qinghai province sentenced three men to four to six years in jail for "state subversion", after they "spread text and images" related to Tibetan independence.
Beijing contends that Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has incited the self-immolations to promote Tibetan separatism. The Dalai Lama, who calls for greater autonomy for Tibet, says he has done nothing to encourage the suicide protests.