State Department International Religious Freedom Report: 2008

TIBET

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

The PRC’s Constitution provides for freedom of religion but limits protection of the exercise of religious belief to activities that the Government defines as “normal.” The Government’s 2005 White Paper on Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities 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.” Although the authorities permitted many traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they maintained tight control on religious practices and places of worship. They promptly and forcibly suppressed activities that they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, such as religious activities venerating the Dalai Lama, whom the Government continued to characterize as a separatist.

During the period covered by this report, the level of religious repression in the TAR and other Tibetan areas increased. Some of the Government’s increased restrictions on religious freedom during the reporting period included interference with the process of selecting and training reincarnate lamas, stricter control over the ability of monks and nuns to travel between monasteries, and limits on the construction or renovation of monasteries. The Government also strengthened “patriotic education” campaigns in the monasteries, which required monks and nuns to spend several hours a day studying communist political texts and sign statements personally denouncing the Dalai Lama.

The patriotic education campaigns and other restrictions on religious freedom were major factors that led monks and nuns from a number of monasteries to mount peaceful protests in Lhasa on March 10, 2008. On March 14-15, the protests and security response devolved into rioting by Tibetans and a violent police crackdown in Lhasa. Additional protests, most led by monks and nuns, spread to nearly all Tibetan areas outside of Lhasa, with more than one hundred protests taking place in the following months. Estimates of the number of monks and nuns detained in the wake of the unrest varied between hundreds and thousands. The Government’s respect for religious freedom in the TAR and other Tibetan areas deteriorated severely after the outbreak of violence in Lhasa on March 14. Following the unrest, authorities locked down monasteries as well as detained and physically abused an unknown number of monks and nuns, or expelled them from monasteries throughout Tibetan areas. The Government expanded and intensified patriotic education campaigns in monasteries and nunneries, prompting new rounds of protests throughout Tibetan areas specifically against this forced education. Government officials also increased harsh criticism of the Dalai Lama.

Societal abuses and discrimination that occurred between religious groups in Tibetan areas were also related to ethnic conflicts, economic disparities, and the lack of opportunities for advancement for Tibetan Buddhists. The March 14 rioting by Tibetans in Lhasa resulted in damage to government buildings, Han and Hui businesses and property, and a mosque.

The U.S. Government continued to encourage greater religious freedom by urging the PRC 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 individual cases with the authorities, and requested further information about specific incidents. Following the March 14 violence in Lhasa, the U.S. Government urged the PRC Government to engage in constructive dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives and to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions due to their impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.

Section I. Religious Demography

Tibetan areas total 871,649 square miles. According to the 2000 census, the Tibetan population within the TAR was 2.4 million out of a total permanently registered population of 2.8 million, while in the Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan, the Tibetan population was 2.9 million. Most practiced Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority also practiced Bon, the related traditional Tibetan religion. This held true for many Tibetan government officials and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, even though the CCP and the Government prohibited officials from practicing religion.

Other residents of Tibetan areas include ethnic Han Chinese, who practiced Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and traditional folk religions; Hui Muslims; ethnic Tibetan Muslims; and Christians. There are mosques in the TAR with approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Muslim adherents, as well as a Catholic church with 560 parishioners located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the eastern TAR. Tsodruk, in Dechen TAP in Yunnan Province, is also home to a Tibetan Catholic congregation. There were a small number of Falun Gong adherents, as well as some unregistered Protestant churches, in the TAR.

The number of monks and nuns in the TAR continued to fluctuate significantly due in part to the “patriotic education” campaigns, which sometimes resulted in the expulsion from monasteries and nunneries of monks and nuns who were found to be “politically unqualified” or who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama. In 1996 official TAR government statistics estimated that there were 46,000 monks and nuns and 1,700 religious sites in the TAR, but this figure has likely varied over time due to government policy, politically motivated detentions, monastic secularization, and commercialization due to tourism. Furthermore, the government figure of 46,000 monks and nuns represented only the TAR, where the number of monks and nuns is strictly controlled. There are reportedly large numbers of unregistered monks both inside and outside the TAR, a factor that makes it difficult to produce reliable estimates. According to statistics collected by the China Center for Tibetan Studies, a government research institution, there are 1,535 monasteries in Tibetan areas outside the TAR. Informed observers estimate that 60,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns live in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The PRC Constitution and laws provide for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe, although the Constitution only protects religious activities defined as “normal.” The Constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign domination.” The Government sought to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered religious groups and places of worship, as well as to control the growth and scope of the activity of registered and unregistered religious groups. The Government remained wary of Tibetan Buddhism and its links to the Dalai Lama in particular, and tightly controlled religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. Although authorities permitted many traditional religious practices and some public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed any activities that they viewed as vehicles for separatism, political dissent, or Tibetan independence. This included religious activities that officials perceived as supporting the Dalai Lama. During the reporting period, the Government intensified its rhetoric against the Dalai Lama. Shortly after the events of March 14, Secretary of the CCP TAR Committee, Zhang Qingli, told regional officials that “the Dalai [Lama] is a wolf in Buddhist monk’s robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast,” according to the domestic press. The Government also harshly repressed religious activity perceived as venerating the Dalai Lama, whom the authorities see as continuing a tradition of both political and religious leadership.

After repeated requests from the international community, officials from the Chinese Communist Party United Front Work Department and envoys of the Dalai Lama met informally in Shenzhen on May 4, 2008, to discuss the March 2008 events. Prior rounds of formal talks between envoys of the Dalai Lama and government officials occurred in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and late June 2007.

The Government expanded and publicized its “patriotic education” campaigns in monasteries and nunneries after 1995. As part of these campaigns, monks and nuns are required to affirm that Tibet is an inalienable part of the PRC, denounce the Dalai Lama, and recognize the government-appointed Panchen Lama. The primary responsibility for conducting monastic political education remained with monastery leaders. While the form, content, and frequency of patriotic training at monasteries varied widely, the conduct of such training remained a requirement and was a routine part of monastic management. Several media sources reported that frustration among Tibetan Buddhists with these campaigns was a source of unrest in Tibetan areas both inside and outside of the TAR.

During the reporting period, new rules and regulations came into force that increased government control over religious practices, relics, and traditions. On September 1, 2007, the Management Measures on Reincarnation (MMR) issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) went into effect, codifying government assertion of control over the selection of Tibetan religious leaders and reincarnate lamas. The regulations stipulate that local governments at the city-level and above have the power to deny permission for a Tibetan Buddhist lama to be reincarnated. Reincarnations must be approved by at least provincial-level governments, while the State Council reserves the right to deny the reincarnation of living Buddhas of “especially great influence.” The regulations state that no foreign organization or individual can interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within the PRC and not abroad.

A December 27, 2007, article by the official Xinhua News Agency stated, “The rule is bound to have significant impact on standardizing governance on living Buddha reincarnation, protecting people’s religious freedom, maintaining the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism, and the building of a harmonious society.” Some criticized the rules as unwarranted government interference in the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and an attempt to minimize the influence of the Dalai Lama over the process of selecting and recognizing reincarnate lamas, including the crucial issue of the selection of his successor.

On January 1, 2007, the TAR Implementation of the PRC Religious Affairs Regulations (the Implementing Regulations) also issued by SARA came into force, superseding the TAR’s 1991 regulations. The Implementing Regulations asserted state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious groups, venues, and personnel. The Implementing Regulations codified the practice of controlling the movement of nuns and monks by requiring permission from county-level religious affairs officials for travel to another prefecture or county-level city within the TAR. In Tibetan Buddhism, visitation to different monasteries and religious sites for specialized training by experts in their particular theological tradition is a key component of religious education. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) reported that monks and nuns who go to India claim that their main reasons for choosing to leave Tibet are to continue their studies, which they believe they are unable to do inside Tibet, and to obtain a blessing from the Dalai Lama.

The Implementing Regulations also increased the Government’s control over the building and management of religious structures and over large-scale religious gatherings. Official permission is required for all monastic construction and “reconstructing, extending, or repairing religious venues.” Likewise, monasteries must request permission to hold large or important religious events. During the reporting period, the TAR government tightened its control over Tibetan Buddhist religious relics. A July 2007 revision to the TAR Cultural Relics Protection Regulations asserted government ownership over cultural and religious relics, as well as religious institutions, which have been classified by officials as cultural sites.

The TAR government has the right under the Implementing Regulations to disapprove any individual’s application to take up religious orders. Authorities curtailed the traditional practice of sending young boys to monasteries for religious training by implementing regulations forbidding monasteries from accepting individuals under the age of 18. In practice, many monks studied and worshiped within their monasteries without being “registered” or obtaining an official monastic identification card issued by religious affairs authorities.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government officials often associated Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas. Although the Government did not contribute to the monasteries’ operating funds, it oversaw the daily operations of major monasteries through the Democratic Management Committees (DMCs) and local religious affairs bureaus (RABs). Regulations restrict leadership of many DMCs to “patriotic and devoted” monks and nuns and specify that the Government must approve all members of the committees. At some monasteries, government officials are among the members of the committees.

The Government stated that there were no limits on the number of monks in major monasteries and that each monastery’s DMC could decide independently how many monks the monastery could support. In practice, the Government imposed strict limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, particularly in the TAR and Sichuan’s Ganzi TAP. For example, Ganzi TAP government order No. 2 of June 28, 2008, reduced the number of monks allowed in a specific monastery as punishment for that monastery’s having provided refuge to a monk who had been expelled from another monastery. Since March 2008, monks in Gannan TAP in southern Gansu Province and in Aba TAP in Sichuan Province have reported that as part of new efforts to “reeducate” monks and nuns, they are required to pass a “patriotic” test to stay in the monastery. Some monks reportedly fled their monasteries to avoid these tests, which in some cases required them to trample a photo of the Dalai Lama.

In Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province, as part of “patriotic education” campaigns, hundreds of young monks were reportedly removed from monasteries, as were hundreds of schoolchildren from schools attached to monasteries. Such children were placed in public schools to receive officially mandated compulsory education. On April 8, 2008, authorities closed the Taktsang Lhamo Kirti Monastic School in Sichuan Province’s Aba TAP and sent 500 novice monks and other Tibetan schoolchildren home. The monastic school, although governed by local authorities for a decade, was not accredited and thus unable to issue degrees that could provide access to higher education.

During the reporting period, local authorities frequently pressured parents, especially those who were CCP members or government employees, to withdraw their children from monasteries in their hometowns, private schools attached to monasteries, and Tibetan schools in India. In some cases local authorities confiscated identity documents of parents with children in Tibetan schools in India as a means of forcing the parents to make their children return home.

Some experts viewed the MMR, which allows the Government to control the process of selecting Tibetan religious leaders, as an attempt to minimize the Dalai Lama’s influence and strengthen government control over the process of selecting reincarnate lamas, including the selection of the next Dalai Lama. Authorities closely supervise the education of lamas approved by the Government. For example, the education of the current Reting Rinpoche, who is 10 years old (born on October 3, 1997), differed significantly from that of his predecessors, and government officials, rather than religious leaders, managed the selection of his religious and lay tutors.

The Government severely restricted contacts between reincarnate lamas and the outside world. For example, the 11th Pawo Rinpoche, who was recognized by the 17th Karmapa in 1994, remained under government supervision at Nenang Monastery. Foreign delegations have repeatedly been refused permission to visit him.

The quality and availability of high-level religious teachers in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained inadequate. Many teachers were in exile in India and elsewhere, older teachers were not replaced, and those who remained in Tibetan areas outside the TAR had difficulty securing permission to teach within the TAR. Furthermore, the head leaders of all major schools of Tibetan Buddhism lived abroad. For example, the Karmapa, leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s Karma Kagyu school and one of the most influential religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism, remained in exile after departing the TAR in 1999. According to the Karmapa, he left because of government controls over his movements and the Government’s refusal to allow him to go to India to be trained by his spiritual mentors or to allow his teachers to come to him.

In recent years, DMCs at several large monasteries began to use funds generated by the sale 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 formerly had been fully supported had to engage in income-generating activities. Some experts have expressed concern that as a result, fewer monks will 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, such activities also deflected time and energy from religious instruction.

Restrictions sometimes were applied even to monks visiting another monastery within the same county for short-term study or teaching. In December 2007 a Tibetan Buddhist monk told the Ganzi Daily, the official newspaper of the Ganzi Prefecture Communist Party Committee, that monks in Lithang, Ganzi TAP needed permission to leave their monasteries and enter town. Since the unrest in March 2008, monks in several Tibetan areas reported that they were unable to leave their home monasteries.

Authorities permitted resumption of the Geshe Lharampa examinations, the highest religious examination in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddism, in July 2004 after a 16-year ban. According to officials, five monks passed the Geshe Lharampa exam in 2007, and four passed in the first half of 2008. In early 2008 monks at the Jokhang Temple, where the test is administered, said that the reinstated exam was of poor quality, that political content unrelated to the test’s historical religious content had been added, and that the best candidates were not selected to sit for the exam. Restrictions on religious education made it difficult for monks to receive the level of instruction necessary to take or pass the Geshe Lharampa exam. Monks who wished to sit for the exam traditionally traveled to the TAR to study at such monasteries as Sera and Drepung; however, restrictions on the movement of monks from one monastery to another made it difficult, especially for those residing outside the TAR, to receive advanced religious education. These restrictions, along with regulations on the transfer of religious relics between monasteries, weakened the strong traditional ties between large monasteries in the Lhasa area and affiliates throughout Tibetan areas.

Spiritual leaders reportedly encountered difficulty reestablishing historical monasteries due to lack of funding and denials of government permission to build and operate religious institutions. Officials in some areas contended that these religious venues were a drain on local resources and a conduit for political infiltration by the Tibetan exile community. In some areas the Government restored monasteries as a means to promote tourism and boost revenue.

After the outbreak of violence on March 14, 2008, security forces blocked access to and exit from important monasteries, including those in the Lhasa area. A heavy police presence in the monasteries restricted the movement of monks and prevented “unauthorized” visits, including those by foreign journalists.

The Government increased security measures during sensitive anniversaries and festival days in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. In March 2008 authorities in Lhasa heightened security in major monasteries in order to control possible gatherings to mark the 49th anniversary of the 1959 unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

The Government forbade religious or celebratory activities in Lhasa and closed several monasteries during the period when the Dalai Lama was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal on October 17, 2007. The prohibition against celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued during the reporting period. In December 2007 the Government banned participation of officials, workers, and students in the Ganden Ngamcho Festival. CCP members were threatened with demotions and salary cuts if they did not comply with the order. The ban on the Great Prayer Festival, or Monlam Chenmo, which is traditionally closely associated with the Geshe exam process, remained in effect.

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. In practice, the ability of Tibetans to display the Dalai Lama’s picture varied regionally and with the political climate. The Implementing Regulations state that “religious personnel and religious citizens may not distribute books, pictures, or other materials that harm the unity of the nationalities or endanger state security.” Photos and books of the Dalai Lama are deemed to fall into this category. During the reporting period, 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 displayed in inconspicuous areas.

The Government continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the man widely recognized as the Panchen Lama. According to numerous reports, authorities in many Tibetan areas confiscated or defaced photographs of the Dalai Lama found in monasteries and private residences following the March 2008 unrest. Furthermore, authorities appeared to view possession of such photos or material as evidence of separatist sentiment when detaining individuals on political charges. Merchants who ignored the restrictions and sold Dalai Lama-related images and audiovisual material reported that authorities frequently imposed fines on them.

Authorities prohibited the registration of names for children that included one or more of the names of the Dalai Lama or certain names included on a list of blessed names approved by the Dalai Lama. As a result, many Tibetans have a name they use in daily life and a different, government-approved name for interactions with government officials.

Many Tibetans, particularly those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports. The application process was not transparent, and reported obstacles ranged from bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption to denials based on the applicant’s political activities or religious beliefs. Passports previously issued were sometimes confiscated by authorities, especially in the wake of the March 2008 unrest.

Difficulty obtaining both a passport and an entry visa for India continued to limit the ability of Tibetans to travel to India for religious purposes. Nevertheless, thousands of Tibetans, including monks and nuns, visited India via third countries. The number of Tibetans who returned after temporary stays in India is unknown. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 2,156 Tibetans arrived at the Tibet Reception Center in Nepal in 2007, compared to 2,405 in 2006.

There were continuing reports that the Government detained Tibetans seeking to go to India through Nepal. Such detentions reportedly lasted as long as several months and sometimes took place without the filing of formal charges. Returning exiles reported that authorities pressured them not to discuss subjects that the Government considered politically sensitive, such as the Dalai Lama.

Following the unrest that began in March 2008, passport and border controls were reinforced, making legal foreign travel more difficult and illegal border crossings nearly impossible.

In 2007 approximately 615 Tibetan religious figures held positions in local People’s Congresses and committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Some religious figures accepted political positions in order to protect their monasteries, and some openly practiced Buddhism. The Government continued to insist, however, that CCP members and senior employees adhere to the CCP’s code of atheism, and routine political training for cadres continued to denigrate religious beliefs and promote atheism. TAR officials confirmed that some RAB officers were CCP members and some lower-level RAB officials practiced Buddhism.

On January 1, 2007, new temporary regulations governing foreign media coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games came into effect, ostensibly permitting foreign journalists to conduct interviews and investigations outside of Beijing and Shanghai without official permission. However, these new regulations did not apply to the TAR, and foreign journalists were still required to secure official permission to enter the region. Following the March 14, 2008 protests, however, foreign media have been completely barred from most Tibetan areas, with the exception of a small number of closely monitored government-organized trips.

Travel restrictions for foreign visitors to and within the TAR increased during the period covered by this report, and the Government tightly controlled visits by foreign officials to religious sites in the TAR. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors were required to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the Government before entering the TAR. After March 2008 the TAR and most Tibetan areas were completely closed to foreign visitors. Many foreigners were turned away at police roadblocks or denied long-distance bus tickets as they tried to enter Tibetan areas outside of the TAR that were officially open.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Government strictly controlled access to and information about Tibetan areas, particularly the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of religious freedom violations. The Government tightened restrictions on access after the protests in March 2008. The Government’s respect for religious freedom in the TAR and other Tibetan areas of China deteriorated further following the violent unrest of March 2008.

On March 10, 2008, monks and nuns in Lhasa and Tibetan areas of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces held peaceful demonstrations to mark the 49th anniversary of the unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule and protested against government policies, including restrictions on religious freedom. After security forces reportedly arrested protestors in Lhasa, monks from the Drepung, Sera, and Ganden monasteries, as well as nuns from the Chutsang nunnery, protested the arrests. After permitting the protests for almost 2 days, police began using tear gas to disperse the monks and then surrounded major monasteries in Lhasa. According to reports, on March 14 when the People’s Armed Police (PAP) confronted a group of monks from Ramoche Monastery protesting near the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibetan onlookers began pulling up paving stones and throwing them at the police. The police retreated, and Tibetan crowds began attacking Han and Hui civilians and their businesses. According to media reports, the police forcibly regained control of Lhasa by the evening of March 15. The Government then closed monasteries and nunneries in Lhasa, imposed a curfew, and prohibited foreign media from entering the TAR.

In the days and weeks following the violence in Lhasa, protests – nearly all of them peaceful – spread across Tibetan areas, including in Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu provinces. The Government responded with increased police and military presence in these areas. By March 27 more than 42 county-level locations, as well as Chengdu, Sichuan Province; Lanzhou, Gansu Province; and Beijing, reported protest activity. According to researchers at Columbia University, there were approximately 125 documented protest incidents between mid-March and early June 2008. Many protests that began peacefully were met by a forceful security response. In a small number of cases, local authorities effectively defused escalating tension through negotiation and dialogue with local religious figures. Daily protests were reportedly continuing in Ganzi TAP at the end of the reporting period.

Because the Government limited access to Tibetan areas, it was difficult to obtain precise arrest and casualty figures. According to government sources, 22 people were killed, and there was damage to schools, hospitals, residences, and stores. The India-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) estimated a total of 79 Tibetans were killed in Lhasa and areas outside the TAR during and following the March protests; reports from the ICT estimated the number of Tibetans killed at more than 200.

On March 15, 2008, the Government reportedly arrested approximately 600 people in Lhasa. According to official sources, more than 1000 Tibetans turned themselves in to security forces at the end of March, following a government-issued request for surrender. Unofficial reports estimated that by the end of March authorities detained at least 1,200 Tibetan protestors in addition to those who voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities. Official sources reported in mid-April that 4,000 individuals had been detained in Lhasa and parts of Gansu Province, with nearly half of those detained being released several weeks later.

The number of monks and nuns at several monasteries reportedly decreased after March 14, 2008. Information about the location of many who were arrested was difficult to confirm. There were reports of ongoing mass detentions of monks and of monasteries being sealed off by police and military personnel as “patriotic education” campaigns intensified. More than 80 nuns reportedly were detained in Sichuan Province alone since March 2008.

According to numerous sources, many of those detained after March 10 were subjected to extrajudicial punishments, such as beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods. In some cases detainees reportedly suffered broken bones and other serious injuries at the hands of PAP and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. According to sources claiming to be eyewitnesses, the bodies of people killed during the violence or who died during interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than returned to their families.

On April 29, 2008, 30 individuals were sentenced on charges, including arson, looting, attacking state organs, and interfering with the work of public officials in relation to the events of March 14. They received sentences ranging from 3 years to life in prison.

Buddhist figures such as Gendun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the Panchen Lama, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche remained in detention or prison as did dozens of monks and nuns who resisted patriotic education campaigns. The Dalai Lama, the Karmapa (head of the Karma Kagga school), and leaders of all other schools of Tibetan Buddhism remained in exile. Diplomats and NGOs advocated for international access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima. Nyima turned 19 years old on April 25, 2008. On July 28, 2007, Nyima Tsering, the Vice Chairman of the TAR, told foreign journalists that Gendun Choekyi Nyima was a high school student in the TAR and had “asked not to be disturbed.” The Government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu (born on February 13, 1990), the boy it selected in 1995, is the Panchen Lama’s 11th reincarnation.

The Government did not provide any information on Lama Chadrel Rinpoche, who was reportedly still under house arrest near Lhasa for leaking information about the selection of the Panchen Lama. In 2006 U.S. government officials asked for and were denied a meeting in Lhasa with Chadrel Rinpoche, reportedly under house arrest since 2002.

Limited access to information about prisoners and prisons made it difficult to ascertain the number of Tibetan prisoners of conscience or to assess the extent and severity of abuses. According to the Congressional Executive Commission on China’s Political Prisoner Database, as of July 2007 there were 294 Tibetan prisoners of conscience, 225 of whom were monks or nuns.

According to a report by the TCHRD, 12 monks at the Dingri Shelkar Choedhe Monastery in Shigatse Prefecture, TAR, were arrested on May 19, 2008 for opposing a political education campaign at the monastery. Police provided no information about the monks’ whereabouts or condition.

On April 8, 2008, police in Ganzi County reportedly fired indiscriminately into a crowd protesting the arrest of two monks for opposing the “patriotic education” campaign at Tongkor Monastery. Thirteen people were reportedly killed: Bhu Bhu Delek, Druklo Tso, Khechok Pawo, Tsering Dhondup the younger, Lhego, Khunchok Sherab, Tseyang Kyi, Lobsang Richen, Sonam Tsultrim, Thubten Sangden, Tsewang Rigzin, Tsering Dhondup the elder, Tenlo , and Kelsang Choedon.

In April 2008 monks at Kirti Monastery in Sichuan Province’s Aba TAP were reportedly required to step on a photograph of the Dalai Lama as part of their “patriotic education.” Monks who refused were reportedly beaten by PAP or PSB personnel.

No information was available on the fate of monks who protested in front of a group of foreign journalists at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple on March 27, 2008. Monks involved in a similar protest in front of foreign journalists at the Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province on April 9, 2008, were reportedly arrested, and there was no information available about their whereabouts at the end of the reporting period.

On August 1, 2007, Rongye Adrak was arrested in Ganzi TAP after calling for the Dalai Lama’s return at a public event. On November 20 he was convicted of inciting separatism and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Rongye Adrak’s nephew, Adak Lupoe, as well as Kunkhen and Lothok, were subsequently arrested and convicted of leaking intelligence and endangering national security after attempting to provide information concerning Rongye Adrak’s arrest to foreign organizations. Another relative of Rongye Adrak, Atruk Kyalgyam, was sentenced to 5 to 9 years in prison.

In May 2007 Khenpo Tsanor, the head of Dungkyab Monastery in Qinghai Province, was forced to step down after refusing to sign a document condemning the Dalai Lama.

Legtsok, a 75-year-old monk of Ngaba Gomang Monastery, killed himself on March 30, 2008, reportedly after being arrested on the way to a prayer service and being beaten severely by security forces.
Two monks in their seventies from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Gyaltsen Tsepa Lobsang and Yangpa Lochoe, whom the Government and DMC had repeatedly harassed after accusing them of ties to the Dalai Lama, reportedly killed themselves in late 2007.

According to a report by Radio Free Asia on August 23, 2006, security officials arrested Khenpo Jinpa, a reincarnate lama and the abbot of Choktsang Taklung Monastery in Ganzi TAP, Sichuan Province, for distributing political leaflets calling for Tibetan independence and a long life for the Dalai Lama. On July 16, 2007, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

On August 15, 2006, police in Ganzi TAP detained Lobsang Paldan, a 22-year-old monk from Ganzi Monastery. He was sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment; the charges were unknown. Seven other monks from Ganzi Monastery were also arrested in August 2006 and remained in prison at the end of the reporting period.

The Government destroyed statues of Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambava) in Tarchen Town, Ngari, TAR, near Mt. Kailash and at the Samye Monastery in September 2007 and May 2007, respectively. The Government destroyed the statues in accordance with new restrictions requiring prior government approval for all construction and repairs of monastic property.
Destruction of monastic residences and expulsion of monks and nuns continued at Yachen Monastery in Ganzi TAP, Sichuan Province.

On October 18, 2007, PAP border guards fired on a group of 46 Tibetans attempting to enter Nepal at the Nangpa La Pass. Three were reportedly arrested, and nine were missing; the remainder reached Nepal.

On September 30, 2006, guards at the Nangpa La Pass shot and killed 17-year-old Buddhist nun Kelsang Namtso. From the group of 70 Tibetans, 43 arrived safely in exile; however, at least 25 others, including a number of young children, were taken into custody by the PAP. Film footage of the incident from a Romanian climber clearly showed that the Tibetans were unarmed and were fired on from behind.

Authorities reportedly continued to torture imprisoned monks and nuns, especially those detained after March 10. There were reports of severe beatings that resulted in broken bones and permanent injury. Following her release to the United States in March 2006, Tibetan Buddhist nun Phuntsog Nyidrol reported that she had been tortured by government authorities. She stated that religious prisoners were subjected to torture and were not permitted to meet with other religious prisoners, receive visits from family members, use their religious names in prison, or recite prayers in prison.

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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Since ethnicity and religion are often inextricably linked, it is difficult to categorize many incidents solely as ethnic or religious intolerance. Tensions among ethnic groups in Tibetan areas, including the Han, the Hui, Tibetan Muslims, and other Tibetans, escalated during the reporting period.

On March 14, 2008, protests by Tibetans in Lhasa escalated into violence, with attacks perpetrated against Han and Hui people, and vandalism perpetrated against Han- and Hui-owned businesses, property, and residences. After state media programs showed Tibetans engaging in unprovoked attacks on Han and Hui, citizens inside and outside the TAR reacted with anti-Tibetan sentiment. Domestic media coverage of the events in Lhasa on March 14 repeatedly showed rioting Tibetans beating Han and Hui residents and burning government or other buildings but did not show actions by security forces against Tibetan civilians. Official PRC news agencies reported that 19 Han residents of Lhasa, including 1 police officer, were targeted by rioters due to their ethnicity and killed during the riots, and 3 Tibetans were killed in the rioting. Domestic media attributed the violence in Lhasa to a small minority of outside agitators led by the Dalai Lama and intent on achieving independence for Tibet.

Friction between Tibetan Buddhists and the growing Hui Muslim population in Tibetan areas intensified during the reporting period. Tibetans burned part of a mosque in Lhasa during the March 14 riot; in August 2007 Tibetan monks destroyed a mosque under construction in a majority Tibetan area in Gabde County, Qinghai Province.

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 focused pressure in cases of abuse. In regular exchanges, including with religious affairs officials, U.S. diplomatic personnel consistently urged both the Government and local authorities to respect religious freedom in Tibetan areas.

Embassy and consulate officials protested and sought further information on cases whenever there were credible reports of religious persecution or discrimination. The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom called upon the Government to expand religious freedom in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR and urged the Government to engage in constructive dialogue with the Dalai Lama at the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in May 2008.

Following the March 14, 2008, violence in Lhasa, the U.S. Secretary of State issued a statement calling on the PRC Government to exercise restraint in dealing with the protests, strongly urging all sides to refrain from violence and urging the Government to address policies that created tensions due to their impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.

On October 16 and 17, 2007, the U.S. President met with the Dalai Lama and presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor at the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed in the country maintained contacts with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners in Tibetan areas and traveled regularly to the TAR and other Tibetan areas to monitor the status of religious freedom. The ability of U.S. diplomatic personnel to travel freely and talk openly with persons in Tibetan areas was extremely limited. Not all requests to travel to Tibetan areas were granted. After the outbreak of unrest in the TAR and other Tibetan areas in March 2008, U.S. government officials repeatedly requested diplomatic access to affected areas, but the majority of these requests were not granted. Unpublished restrictions on travel by foreigners into the TAR and other Tibetan areas imposed in March resulted in U.S. diplomats and other foreigners being turned back at police roadblocks or being refused transportation on public buses to Tibetan areas outside the TAR that were officially open to foreign visitors.

 

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