Escalation of surveillance over monks as authorities announce opening of police stations in Tibetan monasteries

  • In a further escalation of state surveillance and intervention in Tibet, the establishment of five police offices in monasteries in a Tibetan area of Gansu was announced this week, with an official report stating that it was part of a “recent focus on policing monasteries”. In Labrang (Sangchu, Chinese: Xiahe), Gansu, where a number of self-immolations have occurred, the authorities announced that 24 police stations had been set up in monasteries.
  • The new offices are part of a rollout of plans announced after 2008 for construction of police stations in Tibetan monasteries, under Chinese policies of placing almost every monastery in Tibet under direct government rule and intensifying Party presence in both rural and urban Tibetan areas.
  • The increased securitization is heightening tensions, with Tibetans expressing particular despair and resentment about the intrusive nature of security forces in religious institutions.

Images of police officers affixing an official Public Security Bureau nameplate to their new office accompanied a report in the Chinese state media on June 11 about the establishment of police stations in two monasteries, named as Mura (Mula) and ‘Xi Heqiang’[1] in Machu (Chi: Maqu) in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu.[2] The inaugurations of the monastery police stations in Gansu had been part of the process of “pushing forward the establishment of the recent focus on policing monasteries”, the article stated.

Following the protests that swept across Tibet in 2008, the Chinese government has adopted a strategy of actively stepping up Party presence as the answer to ‘instability.’ This has led to a more pervasive and systematic approach to ‘patriotic education’, the ‘management’ and securitization of monasteries and a dramatic increase in work teams and Party cadres in rural as well as urban areas of Tibet. In this new ‘war against secessionist sabotage,’[3] the Chinese government seeks to replace loyalty to the Dalai Lama among Tibetans with allegiance to the Chinese Party-state, and in doing so, to undermine Tibetan national identity at its roots.

In a policy that was a major shift, Chinese government or Communist Party officials are now being stationed in monasteries permanently. Speaking about the policy in February, 2012, Communist Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region Chen Quanguo said that ranks of cadres stationed in monasteries should ensure that monks and nuns “become an important force in loving their country, loving their religion, observing regulations, abiding by laws, safeguarding stability, and building harmony.”[4] The move was described by the official media as “critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism,” and aimed to “ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order.”[5]

It involved the installation of an unelected ‘Management Committee’ to be installed in every monastery with authority over the previous structure of ‘Democratic Management Committees.’ In some cases, officials will have the senior rank and pay of a deputy director of a provincial-level government department.

In addition, cadres are being encouraged to befriend monks and nuns and gather information about them and their family members, while guiding them to be “patriotic and progressive”.[6]

The establishment of police stations in monasteries was described as a key objective in rolling out the new agenda of intensified control. An article in the Qinghai state media referred to the implementation of plans to establish police stations in the province’s “133 large and medium-sized Tibetan Buddhist monasteries”. The report made it clear that even smaller, remote monasteries would not be unaffected, as it would also be the “responsibility of the police” to manage control over these institutions too.[7]

Police stations have also been established in around 24 Tibetan monasteries in Sangchu (or Labrang, Chinese: Xiahe), in Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu, according to an official report on June 19.[8] The same article noted that in some monasteries that had not established a formal Public Security Bureau office, the government had established Party and government representatives in the monasteries.

The heavy security in Tibetan monasteries, often accompanying political ‘patriotic education’ campaigns, has been a strong cause of concern among Tibetans for some time. It was raised in the context of quiet discussions in the Tibetan area of Tsolho, Qinghai in 2013 that proposed a more nuanced approach to the aggressive campaign against the Dalai Lama that is linked to the self-immolations and is a cause of widespread anguish among Tibetans. Some senior religious figures suggested that monasteries should be allowed to operate without so much scrutiny and management from outside, except in cases of politically ‘unstable’ monasteries, and that internal mediation should be attempted first following disputes. The discussions were shut down amid a backdrop of tightening repression in eastern Tibet following a visit by one of China’s top leaders Yu Zhengsheng in July (2013).[9]

Tibetans also made appeals for an end to troop deployment in monasteries to the annual session of the regional Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference held in Xining, Qinghai province in January (2014), according to exile Tibetan sources. Tibetan sources estimated that several hundred petitions from individuals were presented at the conference.

There is evidence that the authorities in some areas have recognized the provocative and counter-productive nature of installing security forces in monasteries during religious festivals and have instead strengthened monastic management teams and tightened surveillance mechanisms and patriotic education obligations.[10] But heavy troop presence has still been increasingly evident at religious festivals and in small towns and rural areas since the self-immolations began in 2009.[11]

On an online forum, an anonymous netizen who said they had just been recruited to work in a police station in a Tibetan area posted a message saying that they felt ‘uncomfortable’ about it. While the authenticity of the message could not be verified, the anonymous netizen said that the work was ‘unfamiliar’, and they were unsure of how to deal with it. The netizen said that they were uncomfortable by the conflicting requirements of improving the relationship with the monastery, respecting the monastic tradition, and at the same time watching what the monks are saying and doing.


Footnotes
[1] The exact whereabouts and Tibetan name of the monastery could not be established.

[2] The report is on the Gansu provincial website in Chinese at: http://www.gnzxxw.com/article/article_6292.html Safety of the link cannot be guaranteed. A further article in English appeared on China Gansu Network, June 11, 2014, edited by Yan Song.

[3] The state media declared on February 10, 2012, that the situation in Tibet is so grave that officials must ready themselves for “a war against secessionist sabotage.” (Tibet Daily.)

[4] Li Chengye, cited in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Annual Report 2012, Tibet section: “Chen Quanguo Gives Important Instructions on Further Improving the Work of Cadre Presence in Monasteries: Let Monks and Nuns Who Love Their Country and Their Religion Experience the Solicitude and Loving Care of Party and Government and Consciously Make Greater Contributions to the Building of Harmonious Tibet and Peaceful Tibet,” Tibet Daily, 2 February 12, reprinted in China Tibet Online (translated in Open Source Center, February 10, 2012).

[5] “China: Tibetan Monasteries Placed Under Direct Rule,” March 16, 2012, Human Rights Watch, see: www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/16/china-tibetan-monasteries-placed-under-direct-rule

[6] Cited by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Annual Report 2012, Tibet section. Chen Run’e, “Be a Close Friend to Monks and Nuns” [Zuo sengni de tiexin ren], Tibet Daily, 18 April 12, reprinted in China Tibet News. According to the report, cadres posted to monasteries “must establish and perfect records on monks and nuns who hold professional religious personnel certification, detailing and recording their individual information and their family circumstances.” The CECC observed in the same report that Monastery Management Committees, in terms of status and function, are more intrusive and repressive than Masses Supervision and Appraisal Committees (MSACs) established in Qinghai province by prefectural-level Tibetan Buddhist affairs regulations.

[7] ‘Buddhist monasteries in Qinghai Tibetan new changes’ [sic], posted on Sina.com on November 27, 2010

[8] Chinese state media links: http://www.tibet3.com/news/content/2014-06/19/content_1568267.htm; http://gansu.gscn.com.cn/system/2014/06/19/010734178.shtml. The safety of these links cannot be guaranteed.

[9] ICT reports, http://www.savetibet.org/new-challenges-to-tibet-policy-from-inside-china/ and http://www.savetibet.org/discussions-on-anti-dalai-lama-policy-shut-down-in-qinghai-kalachakra-in-tsolho-cancelled/

[10] For a more detailed account of the authorities’ strategies to deepen patriotic education, see ICT report, ‘Storm in the Grasslands: Self-Immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy’, http://www.savetibet.org/storm-in-the-grasslands-self-immolations-in-tibet-and-chinese-policy/

[11] See images of troop presence during religious festivals at: http://www.savetibet.org/the-crackdown-in-tibet-under-xi-the-march-anniversaries-and-tibetan-new-year-as-xi-jinping-marks-a-year-in-power/

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