State Department International Religious Freedom Report: 2006

TIBET

The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous counties and prefectures in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China. The Department of State follows these designations in its reporting. The preservation and development of the Tibetan people’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage and the protection of their fundamental human rights continue to be of concern.

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief, and the Government’s 2005 White Paper on “Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China” states, “Organs of self-government in autonomous areas, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and relevant laws, respect and guarantee the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities, and safeguard all legal and normal religious activities of people of ethnic minorities.” However, the Government maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. Although the authorities permitted many traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed activities they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, such as religious activities venerating the Dalai Lama (which the Government described as “splittist”).

Overall, the level of repression in Tibetan areas remained high and the Government’s record of respect for religious freedom remained poor during the period covered by this report; however, the atmosphere for religious freedom varied from region to region. Conditions were generally more relaxed in Tibetan autonomous areas outside the TAR, with the exception of parts of Sichuan’s Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Envoys of the Dalai Lama made visits to China for discussions with Government officials in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 and met with Government officials in Switzerland in 2005. There was a report of the death of a monk from Drepung Monastery in October 2005 following a heated dispute with the monastery’s “work team” over his refusal to denounce the Dalai Lama. Although in the past there were reports of the deaths of monks and nuns due to maltreatment in prison, there were no known reports during the period covered by this report. Buddhist leaders such as Gendun Choekyi Nyima and Tenzin Delek remained in detention or prison, and the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism such as the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa Lama remained in exile. Dozens of monks and nuns continued to serve prison terms for their resistance to “patriotic” or political education. The Government refused free access to Tibetan areas for international observers, tightly controlled observers who were granted access, and tightly controlled publication of information about conditions in Tibet. These restrictions made it impossible to determine accurately the scope of religious freedom violations.

While there was some friction between Tibetan Buddhists and the growing Muslim Hui population in cities of the Tibetan areas, it was attributable more to economic competition and cultural differences than to religious tensions. The Christian population in the TAR was extremely small. Some converts to Christianity may have encountered societal pressure.

The U.S. government continued to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas by urging the Central Government and local authorities to respect religious freedom and preserve religious traditions. The U.S. government protested credible reports of religious persecution and discrimination, discussed specific cases with the authorities, and requested further information about specific incidents.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Tibetan areas of China have an area of 871,649 square miles. According to the 2000 census, the Tibetan population of those areas was 5,354,540; the Tibetan population within the TAR was 2.4 million, while in autonomous prefectures and counties outside the TAR the Tibetan population was 2.9 million. Most Tibetans practiced Tibetan Buddhism and, to a lesser extent, the traditional Tibetan Bon religion. This held true for many Tibetan government officials and Communist Party members. Bon includes beliefs and ceremonies that practitioners believe predate the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet in the seventh century. Other residents of Tibetan areas who were religious believers included Han Chinese, who practiced Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and traditional folk religions; Hui Muslims; Tibetan Muslims; and Christians. There are four mosques in the TAR with approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Muslim adherents, as well as a Catholic church with 560 parishioners, which is located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the eastern TAR. There were a small number of Falun Gong adherents in Tibet.

The Government’s 2005 White Paper stated that, by the end of 2003, there were 1,700 sites in the TAR for Buddhists to conduct religious activities, and approximately 46,000 resident monks and nuns. This figure has been cited since 1996, although the numbers of monks and nuns dropped at many sites as a result of the patriotic education and the expulsion from monasteries and nunneries of many monks and nuns who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama or who were found to be “politically unqualified.”

These numbers represented only the TAR, where the number of monks and nuns was very strictly controlled. According to statistics collected by the China Center for Tibetan Studies, a government research institution, there were 1,535 monasteries in Tibetan areas outside the TAR. Informed observers estimated that a total of 60,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns lived in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government sought to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups. The Government remained wary of Tibetan Buddhism in general and its links to the Dalai Lama, and it maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. Although authorities permitted many traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed any activities, which they viewed as vehicles for political dissent. This included religious activities that officials perceived as supporting the Dalai Lama or Tibetan independence.

In 2005 the State Council introduced new religious affairs regulations that superseded the Government’s 1994 regulations on the management of religious sites. The regulations’ preamble stated that the provisions aim to protect freedom of religious belief, maintain harmony between different religions and society, and regulate religious affairs throughout the country. On January 17, 2005, according to a Chinese Government website, TAR Vice Chairman Jagra Lobsang Tenzin told a meeting of TAR officials that the regulations provided “a legal weapon to resist foreign forces’ taking advantage of religion to infiltrate our country.” In January 2006 the official website of Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province announced that it would strengthen the management of religious work by inspecting monasteries to look for elements of instability, enforce controls and collect data on monks and nuns who illegally enter and exit the region, destroy 853 illegal houses and dismiss 1,100 monks and nuns from Yachen Monastery, and destroy 74 illegal houses in Serthar Larang Gar Monastery. An April 2006 report on the same website reiterated that people who illegally exit and reenter and the region would be required to register with the authorities.

Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy, and several other representatives met with Chinese authorities in Bern, Switzerland, in June 2005 and visited Guilin City, China, in February 2006. On previous visits in 2002, 2003, and 2004, Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama’s envoy, traveled to Beijing, Lhasa, Shanghai, and Tibetan areas of Yunnan Province. The Government asserted that the door to dialogue and negotiation was open, provided that the Dalai Lama publicly affirmed that Tibet and Taiwan were inseparable parts of China.

Since the establishment of the TAR in 1965, the Government asserted that it has spent more than $74 million (RMB 600 million) for restoration of the TAR’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, many of which were destroyed before and during the Cultural Revolution. In 2005-06, the Government largely completed projects it undertook in 2002 to restore the TAR’s three most prominent cultural sites: the Potala Palace, the Norbulingka (another former residence of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa), and Sakya Monastery (the seat of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism in rural southern TAR).

Despite these and other efforts, many monasteries destroyed during the Cultural Revolution have not been rebuilt or repaired, and others remained only partially repaired. The Government stated that funding restoration efforts was done to support the practice of religion, but it also was done in part to promote the development of tourism in Tibetan areas. Most recent restoration efforts were funded privately, although a few religious sites also were receiving government support for reconstruction projects at the end of the period covered by this report.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government officials closely associated Buddhist monasteries with proindependence activism in Tibetan areas of China. Spiritual leaders encountered difficulty re-establishing historical monasteries due to lack of funds, general limitations on monastic education, and denials of government permission to build and operate religious institutions, which officials in some areas contended were a drain on local resources and a conduit for political infiltration by the Tibetan exile community. The Government stated that there were no limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, and that each monastery’s Democratic Management Committee (DMC) decided independently how many monks the monastery could support. Many of these committees were government-controlled, and in practice the Government imposed strict limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, particularly in the TAR. The Government had the right to disapprove any individual’s application to take up religious orders; however, the Government did not necessarily exercise this right in practice during the year. Authorities curtailed the traditional practice of sending young boys to monasteries for religious training by means of regulations that forbade monasteries from accepting individuals under the age of eighteen. Nevertheless, some monasteries continued to admit younger boys, often delaying their formal registration until the age of eighteen.

The Government continued to oversee the daily operations of major monasteries. The Government, which did not contribute to the monasteries’ operating funds, retained management control of monasteries through the DMCs and local religious affairs bureaus. Regulations restricted leadership of many DMCs to “patriotic and devoted” monks and nuns and specified that the Government must approve all members of the committees. At some monasteries, government officials were members of the committees.

The quality and availability of high-level religious teachers in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained inadequate; many teachers were in exile, older teachers were not being replaced, and those remaining in Tibetan areas outside the TAR had difficulty securing permission to teach in the TAR. In recent years, DMCs at several large monasteries began to use funds generated by the sales of entrance tickets or donated by pilgrims for purposes other than the support of monks engaged in full-time religious study. As a result, some “scholar monks” who had formerly been fully supported had to engage in income-generating activities. Some experts were concerned that, as a result, fewer monks would be qualified to serve as teachers in the future. While local government officials’ attempts to attract tourists to religious sites provided some monasteries with extra income, they also deflected time and energy from religious instruction. There were reports of disagreements between monastic leaders and government officials over visitors, vehicle traffic, and culturally inappropriate construction near monastic sites. In July 2004 authorities permitted resumption of the Geshe Lharampa examinations, the highest religious examination in the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple for the first time in sixteen years. According to officials in the TAR, six monks in the TAR passed the Geshe Lharampa exam in 2004 and seven passed in 2005.

Government officials have stated that the patriotic education campaign, which began in 1996 and often consisted of intensive, weeks-long sessions conducted by outside work teams, ended in 2000. However, officials stated openly that monks and nuns undergo political education on a regular basis, generally less than four times a year, but occasionally more frequently, at their religious sites. Since primary responsibility for conducting political education shifted from government officials to monastery leaders, the form, content, and frequency of training at each monastery appeared to vary widely; however, conducting such training remained a requirement and had become a routine part of monastic management.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 3,395 Tibetan new arrivals approached UNHCR in Nepal during the year; 3,352 Tibetans departed for India, of whom 2,340 received UNHCR transit assistance, and 1,012 Tibetans left for India by their own means. Many Tibetans, particularly those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports. The application process was not transparent, and residents of different Tibetan areas reported obstacles ranging from bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption to denials based on the applicant’s political activities or beliefs. Police in China have stated that passport regulations permit them to deny passports to those whose travel will “harm the national security and national interests.”

Due in part to the difficulties faced by many Tibetans in obtaining passports, and in part to the difficulty many Chinese citizens of Tibetan ethnicity encountered obtaining entry visas for India, it was difficult for Tibetans to travel to India for religious purposes. The Government placed restrictions on the movement of Tibetans during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. There were reports of arbitrary detention that lasted several months, although in most cases no formal charges were brought. There were also reports of the torture of persons, particularly monks, returning from Nepal and India. There were also reports that Government officials asked family members for bribes in exchange for the release of tortured returnees. Returned exiles reported that authorities pressured them not to discuss issues that the Government characterized as politically sensitive, such as the Dalai Lama.

In September 2005 Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Chinese border forces opened fire on a group of fifty-one Tibetan asylum-seekers trying to travel to Nepal by way of Dhingri, in Shigatse Prefecture. All but three were taken into custody and their whereabouts remained unknown. The group included six children between the ages of ten and eleven, two nuns, and one monk. In November 2005 the Tibet Information Network (TIN) reported the detention in the TAR of fourteen Tibetans from Amdo who were attempting to travel to India via Nepal. Nevertheless, many Tibetans, including monks and nuns, visited India via third countries and returned to China after temporary stays. In 2006, there was a considerable increase in the number of Tibetans traveling from China to the Dalai Lama’s Kolachakara ceremony in India. There were reports that Tibetans returning to China from the Kolachakara celebration were being monitored closely by authorities and indications that monks and nuns in some Tibetan areas in Sichuan were required to register upon their return.

During the Kolachakara ceremony the Dalai Lama appealed to Tibetans to protect wildlife by giving up traditional animal-skin-lined clothing. In response to and as a show of support for the Dalai Lama, groups of Tibetans in Eastern Tibetan areas, including Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, held large ceremonies to burn animal pelts. Chinese authorities subsequently prohibited the public burnings and detained some participants, who were later released. Press reports noted that authorities in some areas pressured Tibetans in high-profile positions to continue wearing fur-trimmed traditional clothing.

In June 2006 authorities in Sichuan’s Ganzi Prefecture reportedly initiated a political reeducation campaign for school children. Soldiers in uniform entered a school and said that Tibetans were not permitted to burn animal skins. They reportedly asked students whether they supported the Dalai Lama. Those who said they did not were encouraged to trample a picture of the Dalai Lama. TIN reported that seventeen students were detained for showing respect to the Dalai Lama.

The Karmapa Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s Karma Kagyu sect and one of the most influential religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism, remained in exile following his 1999 flight to India. The Karmapa Lama stated that he fled because of the Government’s controls on his movements and its refusal either to allow him to go to India to be trained by his spiritual mentors or to allow his teachers to come to him. Visitors to Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapa Lama, noted that the population of monks remained small and the atmosphere was subdued.

The Government routinely asserted control over the process of identifying and educating reincarnated lamas. For example, the Government authorities closely supervised the current Reting Rinpoche, who is seven years old, and his education differed significantly from that of his predecessors.

The Government also strictly restricted contacts between reincarnate lamas and the outside world. For example, young incarnate lama Pawo Rinpoche, who was recognized by the Karmapa Lama in 1994, lived under government supervision at Nenang Monastery. Foreign delegations have been refused permission to visit him.

Government officials maintained that possessing or displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama was not illegal and that most TAR residents chose not to display his picture. Nevertheless, authorities appeared to view possession of such photos as evidence of separatist sentiment when detaining individuals on political charges. Pictures of the Dalai Lama were not openly displayed in major monasteries and could not be purchased openly in the TAR. In Tibetan areas outside the TAR, visitors to several monasteries saw pictures of the Dalai Lama openly displayed. The Government continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama. Photos of the “official” Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, were not publicly displayed in most places, most likely because most Tibetans refuse to recognize him as the Panchen Lama.

Many Tibetan Buddhist religious figures held positions in local People’s Congresses and committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Nevertheless, the Government continued to insist that Communist Party members and senior employees adhere to the Party’s code of atheism, and routine political training for cadres continued to promote atheism. Government officials confirmed that some Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) officers were members of the Communist Party and that religious belief was incompatible with Party membership. This prohibition notwithstanding, some lower-level RAB officials practiced Buddhism.

Security was intensified during the Dalai Lama’s birthday, sensitive anniversaries, and festival days in the TAR and in some other Tibetan areas. The prohibition on celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued. The Government reportedly altered traditional dates of Tibetan festivals such as the Drepunb Shodon Festival, and in June, there were press reports that authorities in Amdo (Gansu Province) cancelled the Kalachakara religious ceremony that was scheduled to be held there on July 6. Tibetans in Amdo had reportedly received permission in 2005 to hold the ceremony in 2006. In June, some Tibetans were ordered not to visit temples and monasteries during the Saka Dawa Festival. Some government employees were told that they would lose their jobs or have their wages reduced if they disobeyed this order.

Travel restrictions for foreign visitors to and within the TAR were reported during the period covered by this report. The Government tightly controlled visits by foreign officials to religious sites in the TAR, and official foreign delegations had few opportunities to meet monks and nuns in Tibetan areas that were not previously approved by the local authorities.

In 2004 the Government also restricted access to the Serthar Buddhist Study Institute in Western Sichuan after the death of charismatic Tibetan leader, Jigme Phuntsog. Authorities also pressured monastic leaders to delay the search for Jigme Phuntsog’s reincarnation. Also in 2004, Tibetan and Chinese intellectuals successfully petitioned to stop Han Chinese sportsman Zhang Jian from swimming across Lake Namtso in the TAR, a lake believed by many Tibetan Buddhists to be sacred.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Government strictly controlled access to and information about Tibetan areas, particularly the TAR, and it was difficult to determine accurately the scope of religious freedom violations. While the atmosphere for lay religious practice was less restrictive than in the recent past, the level of repression in Tibetan areas remained high, and the Government’s record of respect for religious freedom remained poor during the period covered by this report.

In early October 2005 Ngawang Jangchub, a twenty-eight year-old Tibetan monk, was found dead in his room at the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. According to reports, Ngawang Jangchub’s death followed a heated dispute with the monastery’s “work team” over his refusal to denounce the Dalai Lama. Government officials claimed Ngawang Jangchub’s death was due to natural causes.

The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism’s second most prominent figure, after the Dalai Lama. The Government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, sixteen, the boy it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s eleventh reincarnation. The Government continued to refuse to allow access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima, seventeen, the boy recognized as the eleventh Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in 1995 (when the boy was six years old), and his whereabouts were unknown. Government officials claimed that the boy was under government supervision, at an undisclosed location, for his own protection and attends classes as a “normal schoolboy.” All requests from the international community for access to the boy to confirm his well-being have been refused.

Gyaltsen Norbu traveled to Lhasa and Ganden Monastery in October 2005 and gave head-touching blessings to monks. In December 2005, the Government celebrated the tenth anniversary of Gyaltsen Norbu’s enthronement in his seat, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse Prefecture in the TAR. During that ceremony, Gyaltsen Norbu performed a head-touching blessing for people in the monastery. Gyaltsen Norbu spoke before 1,000 international participants at the April 2006 World Buddhist Forum held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, and called for national unity and patriotism, according to official press reports. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists continued to recognize Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama.

Lama Chadrel Rinpoche, released in 2002 after six years and six months in prison for leaking information about the selection of the Panchen Lama, was reportedly still under house arrest near Lhasa. Government officials did not confirm his whereabouts and continued to refuse requests from the international community to meet with him.

Authorities in Sichuan’s Kardze Prefecture continued to ignore international calls for an inquiry into the death of monk Nyima Dragpa, who allegedly died from severe beatings while in government custody in October 2003. Officials did not provide any new information on Champa Chung, former assistant of Chadrel Rinpoche who was reportedly still held in custody after the expiration of his prison term in 1999.
In March 2005 the World Tibet Network News (WTN) reported that local authorities extended Tibetan Buddhist monk Jigme Gyatso’s prison term from fifteen to seventeen years. He was arrested in Lhasa in 1996 for alleged “political activities.”

In May 2005 according to the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, authorities in the Gansu Province detained three Tibetan nuns and two monks. Nuns Yonten Drolma, Tadrin Tsomo, and Choekyi Drolma and monks Jamyang Samdrub and Dargye Gyatso were reportedly arrested for distributing letters calling for Tibetan independence at a local monastery, market, and other areas. The Congressional Executive Commission on China Political Prisoner Database (CECC PPD) also listed monk Sherab detained as part of this group.

In mid-2005, Tibetan Buddhist monks Dzokar and Topden and layman Lobsang Tsering were reportedly released after serving a portion of a three-year jail term for putting up proindependence posters. They were arrested in September 2004 in Sichuan’s Kardze Prefecture. Monks Dzokar and Topden reportedly returned to Chogri Monastery.

RFA reported in June 2005 that local authorities detained Jigme Dasang, a Tibetan monk from Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai Province. No charges were reported during the period covered by this report.

A number of former political prisoners and other suspected activists were reportedly detained in the period prior to the 40th anniversary of the founding of the TAR on September 1, 2005. According to Human Rights Watch, Sonam, a monk from the Potala Palace, was detained by security forces in August 2005; officials claimed no action had been taken against him. In another case of apparent preventative detention, state security detained a tailor, Sonam Gyalpo, in August 2005 on suspicion of endangering national security. In September 2005 Sonam Gyalpo was officially arrested on charges of separating the country and destroying national unity.

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), authorities arrested five monks who refused to take part in patriotic education that began in October 2005 at the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. The monks, who were identified as Ngawang Namdrol, Ngawang Nyingpo, Ngawang Thupten, Ngawang Phelgey, and Phuntsok Thupwang reportedly refused to denounce the Dalai Lama and recognize Tibet as part of China. TAR officials said that the monks were not detained but rather expelled from the monastery. The officials acknowledged that hundreds of monks gathered to petition for their return.

In June 2006 RFA reported that authorities detained five Tibetans, including two Buddhist nuns from Kardze Prefecture, for allegedly handing out leaflets promoting Tibetan independence. In Lhasa, Yiga, a nun and two other women, Sonam Choetso and Jampa Yangtso, were reportedly detained on the first day of the Saga Dawa religious period on May 28. Kayi Doega and Sonam Lhamo, a nun, were reportedly detained in Kardze Prefecture on June 1 and June 2, respectively, on suspicion of organizing the leafleting.

Limited access to information about prisoners and prisons made it difficult to ascertain the number of Tibetan political prisoners or to assess the extent and severity of abuses. According to the Congressional Executive Commission on China Political Prisoner Database (CECC PPD), there were ninety-six Tibetan political prisoners and seventy-one of them monks and nuns. The CECC reported that the number of political prisoners declined to less than one-fifth the number ten years ago.

Approximately fifteen political prisoners remained in TAR Prison (also known as Drapchi Prison) in Lhasa, most serving sentences on the charge of “counterrevolution,” which was dropped from the criminal law in 1997. Authorities have stated that acts previously prosecuted as counterrevolutionary crimes continue to be considered crimes under state security laws. According to the CECC PPD, almost half of Tibetan political prisoners were incarcerated in Lhasa and western Sichuan Province.

Prison authorities continued to subject imprisoned monks and nuns to torture.

After her release to the United States in March 2006 on medical parole, Tibetan Buddhist nun Phuntsog Nyidrol, who was detained at Gutsa detention center upon arrest 1989 and then imprisoned in TAR Prison until 2004, reported that she was tortured by government authorities. Phuntsog Nyidrol had received a nine-year sentence for taking part in peaceful demonstrations supporting the Dalai Lama in 1989. In 1993 her sentence was extended to seventeen years after she and other nuns recorded songs about their devotion to Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

Phuntsog Nyidrol also stated that religious prisoners are not allowed to meet with other religious prisoners, use their religious names in prison or recite prayers in prison. Nyidrol also stated that prison administrators deny family visits to religious prisoners as punishment.

Although Tibetan Buddhists in Tibetan areas outside of the TAR enjoy relatively greater freedom of worship than their coreligionists within the TAR, religious expression by Tibetan Buddhists outside the TAR has also at times resulted in detention and arrest.

In January 2005 the Government commuted the death sentence of Tenzin Delek to life in prison. In 2002 Tenzin Delek, a prominent lama from Kardze, was arrested for his alleged connection with a series of bombings in Sichuan Province. On January 26, 2003, Tenzin Delek and his associate, Lobsang Dondrub were sentenced to death for their alleged role in the bombings. The Government executed Lobsang Dondrub on the same day despite reportedly giving assurances to senior diplomatic officials that both would be afforded due process and that their sentences would be reviewed by the national-level Supreme People’s Court. Tenzin Delek was being held in Tuandong Prison in Sichuan Province.

TIN reported in April 2006 that Gendun, a Tibetan monk and teacher of traditional monastic dance from Yulung Monastery in Qinghai was sentenced in January 2006 to four years in prison after he gave talks about Tibetan culture and history. Charges are unknown. Twenty other monks, students, and teachers were reportedly detained with Gendun in February 2005, but they were released soon afterwards.

The status of the following persons arrested from 2003 to 2005 remained unconfirmed at year’s end: five monks who were arrested in 2003 in Ngaba Prefecture in Sichuan Province and charged with alleged separatist activities; three monks from Kirti Monastery in Sichuan Province who were arrested in 2003 for posting pro-independence posters; two monks from Sichuan’s Kardze Prefecture who were arrested in 2004 for displaying the Tibetan national flag; Choeden Rinzen, who was arrested in 2004 for possessing a Tibetan national flag and a picture of the Dalai Lama; Phutnsok Tsering in Magar Dhargyeling Monastery, who was arrested in 2005 for possessing a portrait of the Dalai Lama and writings on Tibetan nationalism; monk Sonam Phuntsog who was detained in 2004 in Sichuan Province on suspicion of being a Free Tibet activist; and five monks from Dakar Treldzong Monastery in Qinghai Province reportedly arrested in 2005 for publishing politically sensitive poems.

The Government did not provide any new information on the following reports: the whereabouts of Seopa Nagur, chief patron of the Kirti Monastic School that authorities closed in July 2003; the report that police in Qinghai’s Golog Prefecture shot and killed Tibetan Buddhist religious leader Shetsul in October 2004 after he and other monks demanded police pay for medical treatment for injuries suffered while in custody. The Government released some prisoners before the end of their sentences.

In January 2005, authorities released Tibetan monk Tashi Phuntsog, who served two years and nine months of his seven-year sentence. Tashi Phuntsog was detained in 2002 following the arrest of Tenzin Delek.

Lhasa orphanage owners Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche (Jigme Tenzin Nyima) and Nyima Choedron, convicted in 2002 of “espionage and endangering state security,” were given sentence reductions in March 2006. Bangri Chogrul’s life sentence was commuted to a fixed term of nineteen years and then reduced by one year; his sentence was due to expire in 2021. Nyima Choedron’s ten year sentence for splittism was reduced twice and was set to end in February 2007. She was released early on February 26, 2006.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government’s refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism. The Christian population in Tibetan areas of China is extremely small. Some converts to Christianity may have encountered societal pressure.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu made a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas, using both focused external pressure regarding abuses and support for positive trends within the country. In regular exchanges with the Government, including with religious affairs officials, U.S. diplomatic personnel consistently urged both Central Government and local authorities to respect religious freedom in Tibetan areas.

Prior to the March 2006 departure of nun Phuntsog Nyidrol, who was jailed for fifteen 15 years, numerous high-level U.S. officials including the ambassador and the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor raised concerns about her case in meetings with Chinese officials.

In November 2005 the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Torture visited Lhasa to meet with officials and visit two prisons.

Embassy and consulate officials protested and sought further information on cases whenever there were credible reports of religious persecution or discrimination. U.S. officials in Washington, Beijing, and Chengdu pressed for specific information on Ngawang Jangchub, a twenty-eight-year-old Tibetan monk who was found dead in his room at the Drepung Monastery in early October 2005; and Sonam, a monk from the Potala Palace in Lhasa who was taken from the palace on August 21, 2005 in what NGOs alleged was a politically motivated detention. Officials asked for and were denied a meeting in Lhasa with Chadrel Rinpoche, reportedly under house arrest since 2002.

Tibetan Buddhist prisoners advocated for international access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima and urged the Chinese Government to pursue dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives.
U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed in the country maintained contacts with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners in the Tibetan areas, and they traveled regularly to the TAR and other Tibetan areas to monitor the status of religious freedom.

U.S. development and exchange programs aim to strengthen Tibetan communities in China and preserve their environmental and cultural heritage. Both are inextricably linked to Tibet’s Buddhist religious tradition. The U.S. diplomatic mission in China has also promoted religious dialogue through its exchange visitor program, which financed the travel of several prominent scholars of traditional Tibetan culture and religion to the United States.

 

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