State Department International Religious Freedom Report: 2009

» The following report is available in Tibetan at State Department International Religious Freedom Report, 2009 – Tibetan Translation.

TIBET

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

The Constitution of the PRC provides for freedom of religion but limits protection of the exercise of religious belief to activities 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.” Organs of self-government are governments of autonomous regions, prefectures, and counties.

During the reporting period, the level of religious repression in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained high, especially around major religious holidays and sensitive anniversaries. Government control over religious practice and the day-to-day management of monasteries and other religious institutions continued to be extraordinarily tight due to continued fallout from the March 2008 outbreak of widespread unrest in Tibetan regions.

The Government continued to conduct “patriotic education” campaigns in monasteries, requiring monks and nuns to sign statements personally denouncing the Dalai Lama and to study communist political texts and propaganda praising the Chinese government’s management of religious affairs. Noncompliant monks and nuns faced expulsion from their monasteries. Many monks and some abbots fled their monasteries to avoid complying.

The patriotic education campaigns and other restrictions on religious freedom were major factors leading monks and nuns from a number of monasteries to mount initially peaceful protests in Lhasa on March 10, 2008. On March 14 and 15, the protests and security response devolved into rioting by Tibetans and a violent police crackdown in Lhasa. Official state media reported the detentions of 4,434 persons in Tibetan areas (1,315 in Lhasa) between March and April 2008, although some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) placed the number at more than 6,500. Many of these individuals were monks or nuns. The overall number of monks and nuns in the monasteries declined in the weeks and months following the protests and remained at lower levels than pre-March 2008. The government continued to criticize the Dalai Lama harshly in public, including through news outlets.

During the reporting period, Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns experienced difficulty traveling and hotels frequently denied them registration. They were also subject to extraordinary police checks and arbitrary searches. Such discriminatory treatment was particularly severe in large cities, including Beijing and Chengdu, before and during the 2008 Olympic Games. Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as lay Tibetans, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports from their local public security bureaus, a situation some have attributed in part to an official effort to hinder travel to Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama resides. The Government increased personnel on the Tibet-Nepal border after the protests, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that fewer Tibetans arrived at the Tibet Reception Center in Nepal during the reporting period than in prior years.

The U.S. government encouraged the PRC Government and local authorities to respect religious freedom and preserve religious traditions. U.S. diplomatic personnel visited the TAR twice during the reporting period. TAR officials repeatedly denied U.S. diplomatic personnel’s requests to visit Tibetan regions, limiting the ability of U.S. diplomatic personnel to travel freely and talk openly with persons in Tibetan areas. 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. The U.S. government continued to urge 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 recent official estimates, the Tibetan population within the TAR was approximately 2.4 million of a total permanently registered population of 2.8 million. These figures undercount non-Tibetans who have migrated to the TAR to pursue job and business opportunities. According to official statistics, the ethnic Tibetan population in the Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces was 2.9 million. Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority also practices Bon, the related traditional Tibetan religion, and a smaller minority practices Islam. Many Tibetan government officials and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members are religious believers, despite government and CCP prohibitions against cadres practicing religion.

Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include ethnic Han Chinese, who practice Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and traditional folk religions; Hui Muslims; and Christians. Approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Muslims worship at mosques in the TAR; there is also a 560-member Catholic church located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the eastern TAR. Tsodruk, in Dechen TAP, Yunnan Province, is also home to a Tibetan Catholic congregation. The TAR is home to a small number of Falun Gong adherents, as well as some unregistered Protestant churches.

The number of monks and nuns in monasteries 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 found “politically unqualified” or who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama. Other monks and nuns reportedly left their monasteries to take refuge from the authorities. According to the June 21, 2009 People’s Daily, there are 3,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with 120,000 monks and nuns in the TAR and Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. In the TAR, there are 1,789 religious venues with 46,000 monks and nuns. 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 60,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns live in Tibetan areas outside the TAR. The figures have varied over time for a number of reasons, including government policy, politically motivated detentions, monastic secularization, and commercialization due to tourism. The widespread practice of monasteries accepting unregistered novices and other monks compounds the difficulty in estimating the true number of practicing Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. Authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas tightened enforcement of longstanding regulations that forbid monasteries from accepting individuals under the age of 18, hindering the traditional practice of sending young boys to monasteries for religious training. However, there were monks as young as eight years of age at some monasteries. Many monks studied and worshiped within their monasteries without being “registered” or obtaining an official monastic identification card issued by religious affairs authorities. Hence, two population figures exist for many monasteries, the official number reflecting the number of monks allowed by the government, and the actual figure, which may be twice the official number or even higher, and which includes both registered and unregistered monks.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for 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 protects only religious activities defined as “normal.” The Constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.” 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, and tightly controlled religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas.

Officials from the CCP’s United Front Work Department, which oversees the implementation of Beijing’s Tibet policies, and envoys of the Dalai Lama continued to conduct talks during the reporting period, meeting in July and November 2008 in Beijing. Prior rounds of formal talks between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and government officials occurred annually from 2002 to 2007.

Patriotic education campaigns intensified dramatically following the March 2008 unrest and remained frequent throughout the reporting period. Increasing “legal education” at monasteries and nunneries was a major theme of political education campaigns and reflected the Government’s desire to influence monks and nuns not to engage in “illegal” protests and gatherings. As part of these campaigns, monks and nuns were required to affirm that Tibet is an inalienable part of the PRC, in many cases to denounce the Dalai Lama, and to express allegiance to the government-appointed Panchen Lama. The primary responsibility for conducting monastic political education remained with monks selected by the Government at each monastery. In some cases, religious affairs officials directed the content of monks’ and nuns’ religious teachings and forced them to include positive remarks about Chinese leaders and Communist Party religious policies. 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.

For instance, in March 2009, a public notice posted in Kumbum (Ta’er) Monastery in Qinghai Province said monks must be “patriotic” and warned that they would face expulsion if they “damage[d] the image of the monastery” or broke any laws. Several media sources reported frustration with such campaigns among Tibetan Buddhists was an ongoing source of unrest in Tibetan areas both inside and outside the TAR. Government Order No. 2 of June 2008 authorizes the detention of monks and nuns for re-education and allows authorities to expel insubordinate religious leaders from their monasteries. Officials in Ganzi (Kardze), Sichuan Province, issued the order. Monasteries that do not cooperate can be “removed from the list of registered religious institutions and closed down.” These new measures provide a legal basis for activities the Government was already undertaking in the TAR and the TAPs.

Rules and regulations that provide a legal basis for government control over Tibetan religious traditions continued to be enforced. These included the Management Measures on Reincarnation (MMR) issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), which codified 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. At least provincial-level governments must approve reincarnations, while the State Council reserves the right to deny the reincarnation of living Buddhas of “especially great influence.” The regulations state no foreign organization or individual can interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within the PRC.

The TAR Implementation of the PRC Religious Affairs Regulations (the Implementing Regulations) issued by SARA continued to assert state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious groups, venues, and personnel. The TAR government has the right under the Implementing Regulations to disapprove any individual’s application to take up religious orders. The Implementing Regulations codified the practice of controlling the movement of nuns and monks, also requiring them to seek permission from county-level religious affairs officials to travel to another prefecture or county-level city within the TAR to study or teach.

In Tibetan Buddhism, visiting 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 went to India claimed their main reasons for choosing to leave Tibet were to continue their studies, which they believed they were unable to do inside Tibet, and to obtain a blessing from the Dalai Lama. Travel restrictions are partly to blame for the continuing decline in the quality of monastic education in Tibetan areas of China.

The Implementing Regulations also gave the Government formal 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 continued to control Tibetan Buddhist religious relics tightly, maintaining that the relics, along with religious institutions themselves, were state property.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government officials often associated Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas. In practice, the Government regulated the operations of major monasteries through Democratic Management Committees (DMCs) composed of monastic leaders who generally complied with directions from local religious affairs bureaus (RABs). In most cases, the Government did not contribute to the monasteries’ operating funds. Regulations restricted leadership of 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 among the members of the committees. Although authorities permitted many traditional religious ceremonies and practices and public manifestations of belief during the reporting period, they rigorously confined most religious activities to officially designated places of worship and maintained tight control over religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypeople. The Government forcibly suppressed activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence.

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, however, the Government imposed strict limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, particularly in the TAR and Sichuan’s Ganzi (Kardze) TAP.

In the TAR and in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province, as part of “patriotic education” campaigns, the Government reportedly removed hundreds of young monks from monasteries and hundreds of schoolchildren from schools attached to monasteries. Such children were placed in public schools to receive officially mandated compulsory 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 whose children were studying at Tibetan schools in India as a means of forcing the parents to make their children return home.

Authorities closely supervised the education of lamas approved by the Government. For example, the education of the current Reting Rinpoche, who is 11 years old (born October 3, 1997), differed significantly from that of his predecessors. Government officials, rather than religious leaders, managed the selection of his religious and lay tutors.

The Government severely restricted contact between several important reincarnate lamas and the outside world. For example, the 11th Pawo Rinpoche, whom the 17th Karmapa recognized in 1994, remained under official supervision at Nenang Monastery. Foreign delegations have repeatedly been refused permission to visit him. The Government also refused requests by international observers to meet Buddhist figures such as Gendun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the Panchen Lama.

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 in other parts of China or abroad, or even within the TAR. After March 2008, many monks originally from other Tibetan areas were expelled from monasteries in Lhasa even if they had lived in the monasteries for as long as 20 years. The 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. The Karmapa said 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 from the sale of entrance tickets or pilgrims’ donations for purposes other than the support of monks engaged in full-time religious study. Although 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.

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

Tibetan residents in a community outside the TAR that had been the scene of major protests in March 2008 reported continued restrictions during the reporting period on their ability to access the local monastery, with security forces limiting the number of times per week they could enter the monastery to worship. In August 2008, an annual religious festival tens of thousands of persons normally attended at Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province was cancelled, reportedly due to official desire to prevent any incidents from taking place during the Olympic Games.

Authorities permitted resumption of the Geshe Lharampa examinations, the highest religious examination in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, in July 2004 after a 16-year ban. On April 12, 2009, nine monks from Tashi Lhunpo, Gandan, and Magon Monasteries passed the Geshe exam. The ban on the Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo), which is closely associated with the Geshe exam process, remained in effect. Traditionally, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans gathered in Lhasa during the Monlam Chenmo; however, public celebration of the festival has been banned since 1990. Approximately100 monks conducted the Monlam Chenmo at the Jokhang Temple in 2009. 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 within the Tibetan areas of China made it difficult 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.

Restrictions sometimes were applied even to monks visiting other monasteries within the same county for short-term study or teaching. Since the unrest in March 2008, monks in several Tibetan areas reported that they were unable to leave their home monasteries. In March 2009 a public notice in Kumbum (Ta’er) Monastery required monks wishing to go on leave to obtain permission from superiors. During the period in March 2009 that coincided with the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile, numerous monasteries experienced disruptions in cellular telephone, text messaging, Internet, and other communication services.

After the outbreak of violence on March 14, 2008, security forces blocked access to and from important monasteries, including those in the Lhasa area. Nighttime police raids removed many monks from important monasteries in Lhasa in the first few months after the March 2008 crackdown. A heavy police presence in the monasteries restricted the movement of monks and prevented “unauthorized” visits, including those by foreign journalists. Similar restrictions were in place in March 2009, when foreign journalists were prevented from entering most Tibetan areas. On March 9, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China issued a statement saying reporters from six news organizations had been detained in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces, even though, unlike the TAR, these areas were open to foreign journalists.

The Government increased security measures during sensitive anniversaries and festival days in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. After many Tibetans inside and outside China called for a cancellation of Tibetan New Year (Losar) celebrations out of respect for those who died as a result of the March 14, 2008 riots and subsequent protests, government officials in many Tibetan communities ordered monks to celebrate the holiday, which fell on February 25. In March 2009, authorities in Lhasa heightened security in major monasteries to control possible gatherings to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1959 unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

Some government officials maintained there was no law against possessing or displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama, but rather most Tibetans chose not to display his picture. However, 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.” Some officials deemed photos of and books by or about the Dalai Lama as materials that violated the Implementing Regulations.

Nevertheless, many Tibetans displayed photos of the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama-recognized 11th Panchen Lama in their homes, in lockets, and on cellular telephones. The ability of Tibetans to display the Dalai Lama’s picture varied regionally and with the political climate.

In major monasteries, especially those that attract large numbers of tourists, pictures of the Dalai Lama were not openly displayed. His picture also could not be purchased openly in the TAR or other Tibetan areas of China. Merchants who ignored the restrictions and sold Dalai Lama-related images and audiovisual material reported that authorities frequently imposed fines. In Tibetan areas outside the TAR, visitors to several monasteries saw pictures of the Dalai Lama prominently displayed, although monks reported that they would temporarily remove such photos during inspections by RAB and other officials. During an “anti-crime” crackdown in Lhasa in January 2009, police searched homes and businesses, in addition to personal cell phones and other electronic devices, for “illicit” images (including images of the Dalai Lama) and music. According to numerous reports, authorities in many Tibetan areas confiscated or defaced photographs of the Dalai Lama 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. The Government also continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the man widely recognized as the Panchen Lama.

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.

The prohibition against celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued during the reporting period.

Many Tibetan religious people in Ganzi and Aba Prefectures in Sichuan were unable to obtain a passport during the reporting period. 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. There were instances in which authorities confiscated previously issued passports. In some cases, high-ranking monks and Living Buddhas were able to obtain a passport only after promising not to travel to India. Many other passport applications were simply denied. Monks and nuns have experienced greater difficulty obtaining passports since the March 2008 unrest.

Difficulty obtaining a passport continued to limit the ability of Tibetans to travel to India for religious purposes. Passport and border controls became tighter following the unrest that began in March 2008, making legal foreign travel more difficult and illegal border crossings nearly impossible. Nevertheless, during the reporting period, hundreds of Tibetans, including monks and nuns, traveled to India via third countries, and most of them sought refugee status in India. The number of Tibetans who returned to China after temporary stays in India was unknown but reportedly declined significantly from previous years. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 596 Tibetans arrived at the Tibet Reception Center in Nepal in 2008, compared to 2,156 in 2007. There were continuing reports that the Government detained Tibetans seeking to cross the border from China to Nepal illegally to go to India. Such detentions reportedly lasted as long as several months and sometimes took place without formal charges.

In 2007, approximately 615 Tibetan religious figures held positions in local National Peoples Congresses and committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The CPPCC is a political advisory body that nominally serves to allow non-Communist Party delegates to participate in the administration of state affairs. Some Tibetan religious figures accepted government positions and openly practiced Buddhism.

Travel restrictions for foreign visitors to and within the TAR and to other Tibetan areas continued during the period covered by this report, and the Government tightly controlled visits by foreign officials to religious sites in the TAR. Foreign media were completely barred from the TAR, with the exception of a small number of closely monitored government-organized trips. Foreign visitors were often turned around at police roadblocks or denied bus tickets in Tibetan areas outside the TAR, ostensibly for safety reasons, while Chinese tourists passed unhindered. Local government officials were often reluctant to say whether confidential travel bans were in effect. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, any foreign visitor was required to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the Government before entering the TAR. On April 5, 2009, the TAR formally reopened for foreign tourists who had obtained a TAR travel permit.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

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 to protest government policies, including restrictions on religious freedom. Following the spread of reports that security forces arrested protestors in Lhasa, monks from Drepung, Sera, and Ganden monasteries, as well as nuns from the Chutsang nunnery, demonstrated against the arrests. After two days of protests, police began to use tear gas to disperse the monks and nuns 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 police. Police withdrew from the area, and Tibetan crowds began attacking Han and Hui civilians and their businesses. According to media reports, 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 Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu provinces. The Government responded with increased police and military presence in these areas. By March 27, 2008, more than 42 county-level locations, as well as the cities of Chengdu, Lanzhou, 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. A forceful security response interrupted many protests that began peacefully, although in a small number of cases, local authorities effectively defused escalating tension through negotiation and dialogue with local religious figures.

Following the March 2008 protests, the Government further tightened its already strict control over access to and information about Tibetan areas, particularly the TAR, making it difficult to determine the scope of religious freedom violations. These controls remained during the reporting period. Respect for religious freedom in the TAR and other Tibetan areas deteriorated in the months following the violent unrest and remained poor throughout the reporting period. Authorities curtailed or tightly controlled numerous religious festivals and celebrations because they feared that these events would become venues for anti-government protests.

The number of monks and nuns at several monasteries decreased after the protests of spring 2008. Information about the locations of many who had been 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, who routinely blocked cellular phone and Internet access, as “patriotic education” campaigns intensified. More than 80 nuns reportedly were detained in Sichuan Province after March 2008.

According to numerous sources, many of those detained 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 who claimed to be eyewitnesses, the bodies of some people who were killed during the violence or who died during interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than being returned to their families.

In April 2009, Tulku Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche went on trial for weapons charges related to protests that took place in 2008 in Kardze County, Sichuan. Police charged they found weapons in his home; the monk and his Beijing-based lawyer insisted the weapons were planted and he confessed after being tortured. He faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment if found guilty. On April 28, judgment on the case was postponed.

On March 25, 2009, according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), PSB personnel beat to death Phuntsok, a monk from the Drango Monastery in Kardze, after he passed out leaflets on the property of PSB headquarters.

On March 24, 2009, two nuns, Yangkyi Dolma and Sonam Yangchen, of Dragkar Nunnery in Kardze, Sichuan Province, were reportedly detained and beaten for staging a protest at the Kardze County market square. Yangkyi Dolma allegedly distributed a handful of handwritten pamphlets, and both nuns shouted pro-Tibet slogans before PAP officers beat them and took them away.

On March 21, 2009, nearly 100 monks from the Ragya Monastery rioted in the Golog TAP of Qinghai Province. International media reported the riot started after a local monk who was questioned for advocating Tibetan independence ran away from the police station and jumped into the Yellow River to commit suicide.

According to a Xinhua report, on March 9, 2009, a monk named Sheldrup died after reportedly committing suicide due to “stress.” In April 2008, Chinese authorities detained and severely beat Sheldrup following peaceful protests. After releasing him, authorities published his name on “wanted” signs, which indicated they would detain him again. Sheldrup left his monastery and went into hiding until his death.

On March 6, 2009, according to the TCHRD, Lobsang Khandro, a nun from Gema Dra-wok Nunnery in Kardze, was arrested for staging a solo protest march. A few minutes into the march, police beat Khandro and took her into custody.

In November 2008, Jigme Guri, a monk at Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province, was rearrested after filming a video, later posted on YouTube, in which he detailed beatings by prison authorities during two months of detention beginning March 21, 2008. According to Jigme, the beatings left him unconscious for six days, and he required two hospitalizations. On November 4, 2008, authorities reportedly detained Jigme again for unknown reasons. Jigme was released in May 2009.

On March 14, 2008, Chinese authorities detained Tendar after he attempted to prevent police from beating a monk. Police reportedly tortured Tendar during his detention, causing serious bodily injuries that led to his death on June 19, 2008.

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 2009, there were 689 Tibetan prisoners of conscience, 439 of whom were monks or nuns.

On April 11, 2009, in Nagchu County, PSB officers reportedly detained Khensur Thupten Thapkhey, a former abbot of Shapten Monastery, and scripture master Geshe Tsultrim Gyaltsen. A third monk, Tsundue of Shapten Monastery’s Democratic Management Committee, was also detained.

In April 2009, Dokru Tsultrim, a monk from Ngaba Gomang Monastery in Ngaba County, Ngaba, TAP, Sichuan Province, was arrested for writing two articles critical of the Government. His current whereabouts are unknown.

In March 2009, Chinese authorities re-arrested Jigme Gyatso, who was previously arrested in March 2008 and then released in October 2008, for providing assistance to the makers of the documentary film “Leaving Fear Behind.” Gyatso, also known as Golog Jigme, was a monk at Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province. Gyatso’s whereabouts were unknown.

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. Five of the Labrang monks later escaped to India.

In March 2009, four nuns of Puru-na Nunnery in Kardze were sentenced to prison for their role in a 50-person protest at Kardze County headquarters on May 14, 2008. Tashi Lhamo, Youghal Khando, and Serka were each sentenced to two years in prison. Rinzin Choetso received a three-year sentence. The whereabouts of seven other nuns involved in the protest remained unknown.

In February 2009, nine monks from the Samye Monastery were sentenced to prison terms varying from two to 15years for their participation in the March 2008 protests at the Samye government administrative headquarters in Dranang County. A 10th monk was reported to have committed suicide.

On January 24, 2009, seven monks, including chant leader Nima Tsering, were arrested in connection with a demonstration of 300 monks at the Den Choekhor Monastery in Jomda County. The monks were protesting the planned participation of a local Tibetan dance troupe in the Serf Emancipation Day celebrations organized by the Government.

On January 15, 2009, three nuns were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison for staging a protest in Kardze County on June 18, 2008. The three nuns, Poewang, Lhamo, and Yangzom, were being held in a prison in Chengdu. Sources reported that at least 44 other nuns were being held in the prison.

On January 2, 2009, Yangkyi, a nun at Dragkar Nunnery in Kardze, was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison for her role in a May 12, 2008 protest.

In October 2008, two monks from the Ratoe Monastery in Chushul County were sentenced to prison for their role in the March 15 riot at the Chushul County government headquarters. According to the Xinhua news agency, Lobsang Tsephel was sentenced to nine years and Tsenam to five years.

In June 2008, the Intermediate Court in Lhoka, TAR sentenced nine monks to prison for two to 15 years in connection with protests at a government building in Dranang County, Lhoka, on March 18, 2008. Those sentenced included Tenzin Bhuchung of Langthang Monastery and Gyaltsen, of Samye Monastery, who each received 15-year sentences. Tenzin Zoepa of Jowo Monastery was given a 13-year sentence. Nima Tashi and Phuntsok, also of Samye Monastery, were each sentenced to 13 years in prison.

No new information available on Rongye Adak, who was arrested on August 1, 2008, in Ganzi, TAP after calling for the Dalai Lama’s return. He was convicted of inciting separatism and sentenced to eight years in prison.

On March 21, 2009, Tashi Sangpo, a monk at the Ragya Monastery in Qinghai, killed himself after being arrested on suspicion of promoting Tibetan independence.

After March 2008, several monks and nuns committed suicide as a means of protest against government restrictions, including restrictions on religious freedom in the TAR and other Tibetan regions.

On February 27, 2009, the monk Taby of Kirti Monastery in Ngaba (Aba) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, committed self-immolation.

According to the blog of Tibetan poet and human rights activist Woeser, the following monks and nuns committed suicide as a form of protest. On March 23, 2008, at the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa, the monk Thogme hanged himself.

On March 27, 2008, at the Garden Monastery in Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, the monk Lobsang Jinpa hanged himself. At the Guomang Temple, a monk killed himself. On April 12, 2008, in Lhasa’s Meltro Gongkar County, at the Choelung Nunnery, Lobsang Tsomo hanged herself. On April 16, 2008, in Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province at the Kirti Monastery, the blind monk Toisam killed himself.

No new information is available about the Nangpa La Pass incident of September 2006 when PRC border guards shot and killed Buddhist nun Kelsang Namtso. Border guards took into custody 25 individuals from a group of 70 Tibetans crossing the border.

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. Diplomats and NGOs advocated for international access to Nyima, who turned 20 years old on April 25, 2009. In July2007, the Vice Chairman of the TAR told foreign journalists Nyima was a high school student in the TAR and had “asked not to be disturbed.” The Government continued to insist that Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu (born Gyaltsen Norbu on February 13, 1990), whom it selected in 1995, is the Panchen Lama’s 11th reincarnation.

The Government did not provide any information on Lama Chadrel Rinpoche, who reportedly remained under house arrest for leaking information about the selection of the Panchen Lama.

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. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Since ethnicity and religion are often linked in many parts of China, it is difficult to categorize many incidents solely as ethnic or religious intolerance. Tensions among ethnic groups in Tibetan areas, including the Han, the Muslim Hui, and others, remained high during the reporting period. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns reported that they were frequently denied registration at hotels particularly during sensitive times, including the period around the Beijing Olympics. Tensions between individuals of different religious beliefs in the TAR and TAPs were also related to economic competition.

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 General officials protested and sought further information on cases whenever there were credible reports of religious persecution or discrimination.

U.S. diplomatic personnel in the country maintained contacts with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners in Tibetan areas to monitor the status of religious freedom. 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 authorities denied most of these requests. Unpublished restrictions on travel by foreigners into the TAR and other Tibetan areas imposed in March 2008 resulted in U.S. diplomats and other foreigners being turned back, ostensibly for their own safety, at police roadblocks, or being refused transportation on public buses to Tibetan areas outside the TAR that were officially open to foreign visitors. These incidents continued in the reporting period, particularly in March 2009.

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