The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures, counties, and townships in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China. The Tibetan population within the TAR was approximately 2.8 million, while the Tibetan population outside the TAR was an estimated 2.9 million. The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses. The government intensified these controls following the March 2008 unrest in Tibetan areas and continued the policy during the year.
The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor, and the severe repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement that increased dramatically following the March 2008 Lhasa riots and subsequent unrest that occurred across the Tibetan Plateau continued during the year. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detention, and house arrest. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage remained a concern.
In March 2008 monks and nuns from a number of monasteries in Lhasa and other Tibetan communities mounted peaceful protests to commemorate the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. After four days the protests and security response devolved into rioting by Tibetans and a violent police crackdown in Lhasa. Some protesters resorted to violence, in some cases deadly, against Han and Hui residents. The ensuing police actions resulted in an unknown number of deaths, injuries, arrests, and human rights abuses. During the year a number of Tibetans, especially monks, were sentenced to prison for their role in the 2008 protests and riots.
A significant number of People’s Armed Police (PAP) remained in many communities across the Tibetan Plateau during the year. The fallout from the protests continued to affect the human rights situation in Tibetan regions of China.
Deprivation of Life
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, it was not possible to verify independently these reports. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for the killings.
On January 23, Pema Tsepag died of injuries sustained during beatings by authorities after he and two other Tibetan youths protested in Dzogang County, Chamdo Prefecture, calling for independence for Tibet and a boycott of the Tibetan New Year.
According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), on March 25, public security agents killed 27-year-old monk Phuntsok Rabten of Drango Monastery in Drango County, Kardze (Ganzi), Sichuan Province, for distributing leaflets calling for a work strike.
In March Panchou Lede, a monk from the Hor Drago Monastery, was killed in a clash that erupted between Tibetan farmers and soldiers when the farmers refused to sign a pledge committing to keep a certain percentage of their land under cultivation. According to press reports, the monk had been organizing farmers to refuse to plant crops.
In August, according to TCHRD reports, 32-year-old Kalden, a monk from Drepung Monastery, died after being tortured in a Lhasa prison. Kalden was arrested in March 2008, and his relatives were not informed of his detention location.
Following the outbreak of protests in 2008, the government reported that 22 persons were killed in the Lhasa violence, including 18 civilians, one police officer, and three rioters. However, outside observers, including Tibetan exile groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), variously placed the number of persons killed in Tibetan areas due to official suppression that began March 10 at between 100 and 218.
According to official media, in April Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak were sentenced to death for their participation in the 2008 riots in Lhasa on charges related to “starting fatal fires.” The government confirmed that they were executed on October 23. Reports of a third Tibetan executed at the same time could not be confirmed.
Following the March 2008 riots in Lhasa, authorities arrested Tibetans arbitrarily, including monks and nuns, many of whom remained missing. Official statistics for the number detained were incomplete and covered only limited areas. On February 10, official media reported that 953 persons were detained or had surrendered to police in Lhasa following the riots. The report stated that 76 persons were sentenced to prison in connection with the unrest, and an additional 116 were awaiting trial.
According to the International Campaign for Tibet, Northwest Nationalities University student Tashi Rabten disappeared in July, soon after publication of his book Written in Blood. Tashi Rabten had edited a banned collection of writings on the March 2008 demonstrations.
Documentarian Dhondup Wangchen remained in an undisclosed prison near Xining, Qinghai Province. Authorities forced Dhondup Wangchen to fire his original Beijing-based defense counsel and told his family that only lawyers based in Qinghai Province could represent him. Qinghai authorities refused a request by foreign diplomats to observe his trial. On December 28, a court in Qinghai Province sentenced Dhondup Wangchen to six years in prison for making a film critical of human rights conditions in Tibet. At year’s end there was no information on where he was serving his sentence.
There was no information on the whereabouts of five monks, including Sonam Rabgyal, Damdul, and Rabgyal, who disappeared following an April 2008 midnight raid on the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa. The whereabouts of Paljor Norbu, a Tibetan traditional painter sentenced to seven years in prison after a secret trial in November 2008, remained unknown at year’s end. No new information was available on the whereabouts of Phuntsok Gyaltsen, the deputy head of Phurbu Township, Palgon County, who was detained in 2007.
The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama, and his family remained unknown. In October government officials in Tibet told a visiting foreign delegation that Gendun Choekyi Nyima was “growing up very well, loves Chinese culture and enjoying his life.” The officials asserted that his identification as the 11th Panchen Lama was “illegal.”
The security regime employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. Tibetans repatriated from Nepal reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and were forced to perform heavy physical labor. Prisoners were subjected routinely to “political investigation” sessions and were punished if deemed insufficiently loyal to the state.
In March police severely beat 21-year-old Tibetan nun Lobsang Khandro from the Gema Dra-wok Nunnery for carrying out an individual protest in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture. She carried pamphlets and some prayer flags and shouted calls for freedom and the Dalai Lama as she walked to the Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture government headquarters.
On May 24, according to the TCHRD, police injured six persons in Tawu County of Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, while breaking up a protest against a hydroelectric project.
According to numerous sources, many of those detained after the rioting in March 2008 were subjected to extrajudicial punishments such as severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods. In some cases detainees suffered broken bones and other serious injuries at the hands of PAP and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. According to eyewitnesses, the bodies of persons killed during the unrest or subsequent interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than returned to their families.
During his trial, which began on April 21, Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, head of Pangri and Yatseg nunneries in Kardze (Ganzi), who was arrested in March 2008, claimed that police handcuffed him with arms outstretched to an iron pillar and forced him to stand while they interrogated him continuously for four days and four nights. They told Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche that if he did not confess his wife and son would be detained. His trial was later postponed indefinitely. Foreign diplomats asked to observe the trial but received no reply. In late December a court sentenced Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche to eight-and-a-half years in prison for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition (see Denial of Fair Public Trial section).
On May 3, Tibetan monk Jigme Guri from the Labrang Monastery was released from prison. He alleged that prison authorities beat him repeatedly during two months of detention beginning in March 2008. According to Jigme, the beatings left him unconscious for six days, and he required two hospitalizations.
The mass detentions connected with the March 2008 unrest amplified already crowded and harsh prison conditions. Some prisons used forced labor, including those in the public security reeducation through labor system (RTL), to which prisoners may be assigned for two years without court review, detention centers, and prison work sites. The law states that prisoners may be required to work up to 12 hours per day, with one rest day every two weeks, but sometimes these regulations were not enforced; conditions varied from prison to prison.
According to numerous sources, political prisoners in Tibetan areas endured unsanitary conditions and often had little opportunity to wash or bathe. Many prisoners slept on the floor without blankets and sheets. Prisoners reported having to “sleep” side by side with 20 to 30 cell mates for many days.
Former detainees reported that prisoners were not provided with enough food. According to sources, prisoners rarely received medical care unless they had a serious illness. Prisoners also complained that they often failed to receive money, food, clothing, and books sent by their families because such items were routinely confiscated by prison guards.
Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
During the year arbitrary arrest and detention continued in Tibetan areas. Police legally may detain persons for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Following the 37-day period, police must either formally arrest or release the detainees. Police must notify the relatives or employer of an arrested person within 24 hours of the arrest. In practice police frequently violated these requirements.
Official state media reported the detentions of 4,434 persons in Tibetan areas (1,315 in Lhasa) between March and April 2008, although in November 2008, official media reported that approximately 1,317 persons were arrested, 1,115 of whom were released afterwards. Overseas organizations and the Tibet government-in-exile placed the total number detained at more than 5,600.
Many prisoners were subject to the RTL system or other forms of detention not subject to judicial review.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Due to the lack of independent access to prisoners and prisons, it was impossible to ascertain the number of Tibetan political prisoners. A number of the Tibetans arrested or detained in the days and weeks following the spring 2008 protests were sentenced throughout the year. Many prisoners were held in the extrajudicial RTL prisons operated by the Ministry of Public Security and never appeared in public court.
Based on information available from the Congressional Executive Commission on China’s political prisoner database, at year’s end there were 754 Tibetan political prisoners imprisoned in Tibetan areas. However, the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees was believed to be much higher. Of the 754 documented currently detained political prisoners and detainees, 715 were detained on or after the March 2008 protests and 447 political prisoners and detainees were Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. At year’s end the commission’s database contained sentencing information on only 148 of the Tibetan political prisoners. The judicial system imposed sentences on these 148 political prisoners ranging from one year to life imprisonment. An unknown number of prisoners continued to be held under the RTL system.
On February 5, six Tibetans in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, Sichuan, were sentenced from 18 months to three years in prison for participating in protests.
On May 21, according to the TCHRD, Tsultrim Gyatso, a monk of Labrang Monastery in southern Gansu Province, was sentenced to life imprisonment for “endangering state security.”
The TCHRD reported that on July 3, the Lithang County, Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture intermediate people’s court sentenced Tibetan monk Jamyang Tenzin of Yonru Geyden Rabgayling Monastery, Lithang County, to three years’ imprisonment for opposing a work team sent to conduct a “patriotic education campaign” at his monastery.
On August 13, the TCHRD reported that eight Tibetans in Machen County were sentenced to one to seven years in prison following protests related to the suicide of Tashi Sangpo, which was reportedly triggered by his inhumane treatment at the hands of the police.
According to the Agence France Presse, early in the year authorities handed down sentences ranging from three years to life in prison to a total of 76 persons involved in the March 2008 riots. In April Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak were sentenced to death for setting fires to shops that reportedly resulted in seven deaths, and they were executed in October. Two others were given suspended death sentences.
Wangdu (Wangdui), a former employee of an HIV/AIDS prevention project run by a foreign NGO, who in 2008 was sentenced to life imprisonment for engaging in “espionage” on behalf of the “Dalai clique,” remained in prison. Migmar Dhondup, another former employee of a foreign NGO, also remained in prison on the same charge.
Prominent Buddhist figure Tenzin Delek Rinpoche remained in a Sichuan prison on firearms charges. According to Tibetan sources, the firearms were left at his temple by a group who had renounced hunting.
Dozens of monks and nuns who resisted “patriotic education” campaigns before the March 2008 protests continued serving prison terms.
According to the TCHRD, the PSB arrested Kunga Tsayang, a monk from the Amdo Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery, during a late-night raid on March 17; at year’s end his whereabouts remained unknown. The reported disappearance of Kunga Tsayang was part of a continuing sweep of Tibetan Internet writers that began after the March 2008 unrest. On November 12, he was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets in a closed-door trial by the Kanlho Intermediate People’s Court in Gannan, Gansu Province.
The following persons also remained in prison: Rongye Adrak; Adak Lupoe; lama Jigme Tenzin (Jinmei Danzeng) aka Bangri Chogtrul; Jarib Lothog; monk Lodroe; Khenpo Jinpa; Jarib Lothog; art teacher and musician Kunkhyen; Buchung; Penpa; and Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche; monk Choeying Khedrub (Quyin Kezhu); Dawa (also called Gyaltsen Namdak); monk Lobsang Palden; teacher Dolma Kyab; Sherab Yonten, Sonam Gyelpo, retired physician Yeshe Choedron (Yixi Quzhen) monk Tenzin Bucheng (Danzeng Puqiong), monk Lobsang Ngodrub; and monk Tsering Dhondup.
Denial of Fair Public Trial
Legal safeguards for Tibetans detained or imprisoned were inadequate in both design and implementation. Most judges in the TAR had little or no legal training. According to a TAR Bureau of Justice official, all seven cities and prefectures had established legal assistance centers that offered services in the Tibetan language. Prisoners may request a meeting with a government-appointed attorney, but in practice many defendants did not have access to legal representation.
Lawyers who volunteered to represent detainees involved in the March 2008 protests received warnings from authorities not to take on such cases. Authorities threatened some with punishment or placed them under police surveillance. In cases involving state security, trials often were cursory and closed. Authorities denied multiple requests from foreign diplomats to observe the trials of those charged with crimes related to the March 2008 unrest. By law maximum prison sentences for crimes such as “endangering state security” and “splitting the country” are 15 years for each count, not to exceed 20 years in total. Authorities sentenced Tibetans for alleged support of Tibetan independence regardless of whether their activities involved violence.
In November 2008 the Sichuan Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Dorje Kangzhu, a 34-year-old nun, to seven years in prison for “inciting secession.” She was arrested for distributing Tibetan independence leaflets and shouting pro-Tibet slogans in May 2008.
In late December Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, a senior religious leader who allegedly had been tortured to get a false confession, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison on weapons charges following the riots in Tibet. Prosecutors maintained that a pistol and ammunition were found during a police raid, but Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche countered that he had been framed. The monk’s lawyer stated he had given a false confession after police deprived him of sleep for four days (see Torture section).
Freedom of Speech and Press
Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to relay information to foreigners outside the country, or passed information regarding the 2008 protests were subject to harassment or detention.
The government severely restricted travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. In the TAR, foreign journalists can gain access to the region only by participating in highly structured government organized tours, where the constant presence of government minders makes independent reporting difficult. Outside the TAR, foreign journalists were frequently expelled despite new government rules, adopted in October 2008, that state foreign journalists no longer need the permission of local authorities to conduct reporting.
In March the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China urged the government to halt detentions of journalists and open Tibetan areas for news coverage. Reporters from at least six different news organizations were detained or had their property confiscated when they attempted to visit Tibetan areas of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces ahead of the first anniversary of social unrest in Tibet.
For example, on February 27, PSB authorities detained Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, two New York Times reporters, in Gansu Province for nearly 24 hours and forced them to board a flight back to Beijing the next day. On March 8, police detained Isabel Hormaeche, a producer with broadcaster TVE, and her team in Sichuan Province. Some of their materials were confiscated, and they were escorted out of the region. On March 9, authorities detained Beniamino Natale, a reporter with ANSA news agency, along with two colleagues for more than two hours after they visited a monastery in Qinghai Province. At approximately the same time, police repeatedly detained and followed Katri Makkonen of the Finnish Broadcasting Company on the road from Tongren to Xining, Qinghai Province. No explanation was given for the police actions.
In August Reporters Without Borders reported the arrests of four Tibetan writers: Zhuori Cicheng, the monk Gang Ni, journalist Tashi Rabten (aka Therang), and Kang Gongque. Kang Gongque was sentenced to two years in a Sichuan Province prison.
The government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America’s (VOA) and Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Tibetan and Chinese-language services and the Oslo-based Voice of Tibet. In Tibetan areas of southern Gansu Province and the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, police confiscated or destroyed satellite dishes suspected of receiving VOA Tibetan language television as well as VOA and RFA audio satellite channels. Some Tibetans reported that at times they were able to receive such radio broadcasts despite frequent jamming. Some Tibetans were able to listen to overseas Tibetan-language radio and television on the Internet.
Cell phone service and Internet service in the TAR and the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces were curtailed at times during the March period of sensitive anniversaries and the new “Serf Liberation Day” (see Academic Freedom and Protection of Cultural Heritage).
Officials also routinely denied foreign media representatives access to Tibetan areas, ostensibly out of concern for their safety. Domestic journalists reporting on repression in Tibetan areas faced punishment.
The Internet blog of well-known Tibetan poet and journalist, Tsering Woeser, remained inaccessible to Internet users inside China due to official Internet filtering. Authorities continued to refuse to issue Woeser a passport. Most foreign Tibet-related Web sites critical of official policy in Tibetan areas were blocked to users in China throughout the year. On March 24, government censors blocked the YouTube site after a video purporting to show police beating a Tibetan monk appeared on the site.
Official censorship greatly hampered the development of Tibetan-language Internet sites. Although the government funded projects designed to improve Tibetan-language computer interfaces, security agencies responsible for monitoring the Internet often lacked the language skills necessary to monitor Tibetan content. As a result, Tibetan-language blogs and Web sites were subject to blunt censorship, with entire sites closed down even when the content did not appear to touch upon sensitive topics.
On February 26, police in Machu County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, arrested Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang, owner of the Tibetan cultural and literary Web site “The Lamp,” which was taken off the Internet for several months. In November he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets.
According to the Dui Hua Foundation, Gonpo Tserang was sentenced in Dechen, TAR, to three years in prison for “inciting separatism” by sending e-mail and text messages about the March 2008 protests. The verdict from the trial stated that “Gonpo Tserang used the Internet to deliberately fabricate rumors, distort the true situation to incite separatism.”
In February both Internet and cell phone text messaging was cut off in various parts of Kardze (Ganzi) and Aba prefectures in the TAR.
Academic Freedom and Protection of Cultural Heritage
Authorities in Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend political education sessions in an effort to prevent separatist political and religious activities on campus. Ethnic Tibetan academics were frequently encouraged to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as by making public speeches supporting government policies or accepting interviews by official media. Academics who failed to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion. Academics in China who publicly criticized the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books.
Rapid economic growth, the expanding tourism industry, the forced resettlement of nomads, and the introduction of more modern cultural influences continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs.
The 2002 revision of the 1987 Regulation on the Study, Use, and Development of the Tibetan Language in the TAR formally lowered the status of the Tibetan language from the primary working language to an optional language in many official contexts.
In January the Lhasa Municipal PSB began a city-wide “strike hard” campaign. Although ostensibly an anticrime operation, police searched private homes, guest houses, hotels, bars, and Internet cafes for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other politically forbidden items. Police examined the cell phones of Lhasa residents to search for “reactionary music” from India and photographs of the Dalai Lama. According to a foreign press report, more than 5,000 suspects were investigated, and at least 81 were detained. Human rights groups believed the motive behind the “strike hard” campaign was to harass human rights activists and supporters of Tibetan independence.
Many Tibetans both inside and outside the country advocated that the Losar Tibetan New Year holiday, which fell on February 25, be a day of remembrance and prayer, rather than celebration, in light of the deaths that occurred in 2008. To counter this Losar boycott, officials in many Tibetan regions ordered Tibetans to celebrate the holiday. In some Tibetan areas, authorities distributed fireworks to government offices and work units with orders that workers participate in celebrations. The state media devoted heavy coverage to Losar activities. More than 100 monks from Lutsang Monastery, in Guinan, Qinghai Province, conducted a candlelight vigil on the Tibetan New Year and a peaceful march to the county government headquarters. They were arrested, and all but six were released a few weeks later. In April four of the monks were sentenced to two years in prison.
On March 28, the TAR celebrated a newly created holiday, “Serf Emancipation Day,” to mark the day in 1959 that China’s rulers formally abolished the Dalai Lama’s regional government. Government-orchestrated celebrations included a large ceremony in the square of the Potala Palace and a televised musical gala. In the run-up to the new holiday, the official media launched a new round of criticism of the Dalai Lama. A government white paper released prior to the holiday stated the Dalai Lama’s family once owned 6,000 slaves, and the country’s liberation of Tibetan serfs “is entirely comparable to the emancipation of slaves in the American Civil War.”
The Dalai Lama and other observers expressed concern that development projects and other central government policies disproportionately benefited non-Tibetans and continued to promote a considerable influx of Han, Hui, and other ethnic groups into the TAR. On November 24, the Chinese government reported that the railroad into the TAR had carried 8.3 million passengers and 62.21 metric tons of freight since its opening in 2006.
Residents lacked the right to play a role in protecting their cultural heritage, including their environment. In 2007 the TAR government revised the TAR Cultural Relics Protection Regulations, asserting ownership over religious relics and monasteries.
Tibetan and Mandarin are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on public and commercial signs. Mandarin was widely spoken and was used for most official communications. The illiteracy rate among Tibetans was more than five times higher (47.6 percent) than the national average (9.1 percent), according to 2000 census data. In many rural and nomadic areas, children received only one to three years of Tibetan-language education before continuing their education in a Mandarin-language school. According to official figures, the illiteracy rate among youth and working-age adults fell from 30.9 percent in 2003 to 2.4 percent in 2008. However, the illiteracy rate for this group was much higher in some areas. According to a 2006 report by the Xinhua News Agency, a looser definition of literacy was used for Tibetan speakers than for Mandarin speakers in rural Tibet. Tibetan-speaking peasants and nomads were considered literate if they could read and write the 30 letters of the Tibetan syllabary and read and write simple notes. Mandarin-speaking nomads and herders were considered literate if they could recognize 1,500 Chinese characters.
The government established a comprehensive national Tibetan-language curriculum, and many elementary schools in Tibetan areas used Tibetan as the primary language of instruction. Tibetan students also were required to study Chinese, and Chinese generally was used to teach certain subjects, such as arithmetic and science. In middle and high schools–even some officially designated as Tibetan schools–teachers often used Tibetan only to teach classes in Tibetan language, literature, and culture and taught all other classes in Chinese.
As a practical matter, proficiency in Mandarin was essential to qualify for higher education. China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages. Lower-ranked universities established to serve ethnic minority students only offered Tibetan-language instruction in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. At the minority universities, Tibetans and other ethnic minority students typically achieved high proficiency in Mandarin, since much of the curriculum, such as computer and business courses, was in Mandarin.
Leading universities generally required English language proficiency for matriculation. Most graduates of Tibetan schools, however, learned only Mandarin and Tibetan and were thus unable to attend the better universities. This resulted in a shortage of Tibetans trained in science and engineering and, consequently, a near-total reliance on imported technical specialists from outside the TAR to work on development projects inside the TAR.
Freedom of Religion
While the law provides for freedom of religious belief, the level of actual religious freedom remained poor. During the year the government maintained tight control over the teaching and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. During the year the CCP continued its efforts to discredit the Dalai Lama as a religious leader and link reverence for him with political opposition to the government and the CCP.
Press and NGO reports suggested that continued tight government controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas, in addition to social and economic factors, were among the major reasons for the buildup of resentments that led to the widespread protests that began in March 2008. Although authorities permitted many traditional practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed activities they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, including openly worshipping the Dalai Lama. Government officials closely associated Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas.
During the year authorities locked down many monasteries across Tibetan areas, detaining and physically abusing an unknown number of monks and nuns or expelling them from their monasteries. At year’s end more than 500 monks from other Tibetan areas outside of the TAR who were expelled from monasteries in Lhasa in 2008 had not been permitted to return. In some Tibetan regions, local PSBs installed cameras and opened police substations inside monasteries to monitor the behavior of monks.
On July 24, according to the TCHRD, Lobsang Tsultrim, the disciplinary head monk of the Jachung Monastery in a Qinghai Province, was expelled from his monastery and forbidden to join any other monastery after no monk turned up for a “patriotic education” session officials ordered him to call. Lobsang Tsultrim was accused of opposing the “patriotic education” campaign.
Following the March 2008 unrest, authorities forced many monks to attend weekly, sometimes daily, political education sessions. This policy continued during the year, although the frequency and intensity of these campaigns declined. During the year “patriotic education” and “legal education” programs continued to be held at monastic institutions, workplaces, businesses, and schools. In some areas these political education campaigns involved forced denunciations of the Dalai Lama. Officials also forced monks to remove portraits of the Dalai Lama from prayer halls and personal residences, although enforcement varied significantly by region. Restriction on religious expression was most intense at high-profile monasteries, such as Drepung and Sera in Lhasa, in Kardze (Ganzi), and Kirti Monasteries in Sichuan, Labrang in Xiahe, Gansu Province and Kumbum near Xining, Qinghai province
Security measures intensified in the TAR and other Tibetan areas during the Dalai Lama’s birthday, sensitive anniversaries, like the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising in March, and festival days. The prohibition on celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued.
The government continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama. Photographs of the “official” Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, were not widely displayed except at some high-profile monasteries under tight government control and then only at the insistence of government leaders. However, photographs of the previous Panchen Lama, his daughter, and the Karmapa (the leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s Karma Kagyu schools and one of the most influential religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism who fled to India in 1999) were widely sold and displayed. The ability of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns to possess and display photographs of the Dalai Lama varied greatly depending on location. In general rural monasteries rarely visited by Han tourists and officials were able to display photographs of the Dalai Lama. In some monasteries, monks were able to display photographs of the Dalai Lama in their private quarters, although such images were not always allowed to be shown in public areas.
The government restricted ethnic Han Buddhists from living and studying in monasteries in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Monks outside the TAR desiring to study in the TAR are required to obtain official permission from the religious affairs bureaus (RABs) of their home province and the TAR or Tibetan area involved, and such permission was not readily granted.
Although Tibetan monks were not allowed to conduct large-scale religious teachings outside Tibetan areas, many monks continued to give private teachings to audiences in non-Tibetan regions of China. According to reports, ethnic Han Buddhists outside Tibetan areas were sometimes discouraged from inviting Tibetan monks to give teachings. Such visits required explicit permission from both the monk’s local RAB and the receiving province’s RAB. Nevertheless, Tibetan monks sometimes traveled in plain clothes outside the TAR and other Tibetan areas to teach.
Monasteries in the TAR and major monasteries in other Tibetan areas were not allowed to establish relationships with other monasteries or hold joint religious activities. One example was the repeated refusal of authorities in Barkham County in the TAR to grant permission to hold an annual religious event at the Tsodham Monastery. This event, scheduled to take place in early 2010, would have brought together monks from 50 monasteries in the Kham and Amdo areas of the TAR.
The government continued to fund restoration efforts of religious and cultural sites as part of its program to develop tourism in Tibetan areas. Many Tibetans worried that the promotion of tourism to monasteries distracted monks from their religious work.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/.
Freedom of Movement
The law provides for the freedom to travel; however, in practice the government strictly regulated travel and freedom of movement of Tibetans.
Freedom of movement, particularly for monks and nuns, was limited severely within Lhasa and throughout the TAR, and in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces. The PAP and local PSBs set up multiple roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of monasteries. Tibetans traveling in religious attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints. Several Tibetan monks reported that it remained difficult to travel outside their home monasteries, with officials frequently denying permission for outside monks to stay temporarily at a particular monastery for religious education.
Many Tibetans, particularly prominent religious figures, scholars, and dissidents, as well as those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports. It has been more difficult for Tibetans to obtain passports following the March 2008 protests. The renewal of existing passports was also difficult for ethnic Tibetans. In some cases, Tibetans had to promise not to travel to India to obtain a passport. In some cases Tibetan students with scholarships to foreign universities could not study abroad because authorities refused to issue them a passport.
Tibetans continued to encounter substantial difficulties and obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Government and CCP cadres in the TAR and Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture in Sichuan were not allowed to send their children to study abroad. In addition to passport restrictions, reinforcement of border posts made travel, such as pilgrimages to Nepal and India to see the Dalai Lama, more difficult.
The government restricted the movement of Tibetans during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. There were reports of arbitrary detention of persons, particularly monks and nuns, returning from India and Nepal. Detentions generally lasted for several months, although in most cases authorities did not bring formal charges against prisoners.
Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. The Tibet Reception Center in Dharamsala, India, received 838 visitors during the year. While this number was an increase from 2008, it was still down significantly from previous years.
The Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and leaders of all other schools of Tibetan Buddhism remained in exile.
The government also regulated foreign travel to the TAR. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors were required to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the PRC government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. Authorities halted nearly all foreign travel to Lhasa for several months following the March 2008 demonstration. Foreign tourists were again banned from the TAR in March during the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. After March the number of foreign tourists traveling to Tibet increased, but authorities enforced more tightly than before existing rules that foreign visitors must remain with tour groups.
Foreign nationals who were granted official permission to travel to Lhasa again had their movements restricted within the city and surrounding areas. PRC officials continued to severely restrict the access of diplomats and journalists to Tibet. Foreign officials and reporters were able to travel to the region only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by the Tibet Foreign Affairs Office. Foreign diplomats must obtain permission from the TAR’s Foreign Affairs Office for each visit to the TAR; permission was difficult to obtain.
Official visits to the TAR were supervised closely and afforded delegation members very few opportunities to meet local residents not previously approved by the authorities. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international observers to visit Tibetan areas to assess the situation.
Although TAR census figures showed that Tibetans made up 92 percent of the TAR’s permanently registered population, official figures did not include a large number of long-, medium-, and short-term Han residents, such as cadres, skilled workers, unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents. Chinese social scientists estimated the number of this floating population, including tourists and visitors on short-term business trips, for Lhasa alone was more than 200,000 (nearly half the population of Lhasa and more than 10 percent of the TAR’s population) during the May to November high season for tourism and migrant workers.
Migrants to the TAR overwhelmingly were concentrated in urban areas, where government economic policies disproportionately benefited Han Chinese. Small businesses, mostly restaurants and retail shops, run by Han and Hui migrants predominated in cities throughout Tibetan areas. Tibetans continued to make up nearly 98 percent of the rural population, according to official census figures.
The government continued its resettlement campaign of Tibetan nomads into urban areas across the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Officials offered nomads monetary incentives to kill or sell their livestock and move to newly created Tibetan communities. However, reports existed of incidences of compulsory resettlement with promised compensation that either failed to materialize or was inadequate.
In January 2007 TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli stated that the restructuring of Tibetan farming and grazing communities was not only to promote economic development but also to counteract the Dalai Lama’s influence. He also stated that to do so was essential for “continuing to carry out major development of west China.” According to a March 20 Xinhua report on the progress to settle all 219,800 herder households in the TAR, by the end of 2008, 200,000 households, including one million farmers and herders, had been settled into permanent housing.
Improving housing conditions and education for Tibet’s poorest were among the goals of resettlement, yet a requirement that villagers build houses according to strict official specifications within two or three years often forced resettled families into debt to cover construction costs.
Although a 2008 state media report noted that Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups made up 69 percent of government employees in the TAR, ethnic Han continued to hold the top CCP positions in nearly all counties and prefectures, including that of TAR party secretary. Tibetans holding government positions were prohibited from worshipping at monasteries or practicing their religion.
The economic and social exclusion of Tibetans was a major reason why such a varied cross section of Tibetans, including business operators, workers, students, university graduates, farmers, and nomads participated in the 2008 protests. Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment, and some job advertisements in the TAR noted that Tibetans need not apply. Some claimed that Han Chinese were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work. Some Tibetans reported that it was more difficult for Tibetans than Han to obtain permits and loans to open businesses. The use of the Mandarin language was widespread in urban areas and many businesses limited employment opportunities for Tibetans who did not speak Mandarin. New restrictions on international NGOs that provide assistance to Tibetan communities resulted in the elimination of many NGO programs and the expulsion of many foreign NGO workers from the TAR.
The TAR tourism bureau continued its policy of refusing to hire Tibetan tour guides educated in India or Nepal. Government officials stated that all tour guides working in the TAR were required to seek employment with the Tourism Bureau and pass a licensing exam on tourism and political ideology. The government’s stated intent was to ensure that all tour guides provided visitors with the government’s position opposing Tibetan independence and the activities of the Dalai Lama. Some ethnic Tibetan tour guides in the TAR complained of unfair competition from government-sponsored “Help Tibet” tour guides brought in from outside the TAR and put to work after receiving a crash course on Tibet.
Women and Children
There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. However, women were underrepresented at the provincial and prefecture levels of government. According to an official Web site, female cadres in the TAR accounted for more than 30 percent of the TAR’s total cadres.
There was no information on the incidence of rape or domestic violence.
Prostitution was a growing problem in Tibetan areas, and hundreds of brothels operated semi-openly in Lhasa. International development workers in the TAR reported there were no reliable data on the number of persons engaged in the commercial sex trade in Lhasa and Shigatse, the TAR’s two largest cities. Some of the prostitution occurred at sites owned by the CCP, the government, and the military. Most prostitutes in the TAR were ethnic Han women, predominantly from Sichuan Province. However, some ethnic Tibetans, mainly young girls from rural or nomadic areas, also engaged in prostitution. While the incidence of HIV/AIDS among those in prostitution in Tibetan areas was unknown, the TAR Health Bureau reported 102 cases of HIV/AIDS in the TAR between 1993 and 2009, including 28 new cases during January and November. Lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and economic pressures on women and girls engaged in prostitution led them to engage in unprotected sex.
Family planning policies permitted Tibetans and members of other relatively small minority groups to have more children than ethnic Han. Some urban Tibetans who have permanent employment, as well as CCP members and government officials, and some ethnic Han living in Tibetan areas, generally were limited to two children. Rural Tibetans were encouraged, but not required, to limit births to three children.
According to official policy, primary education was compulsory, free, and universal. According to official TAR statistics, 96.5 percent of children between the ages of six and 13 attended school, and 90 percent of the TAR’s 520,000 primary school students completed lower middle school, for a total of nine years of education. In 2003 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education reported that official Chinese education statistics did not accurately reflect attendance and were not independently verified.
The TAR is one of the few areas of China that does not have a skewed sex ratio resulting from sex-selective abortion and inadequate health care for female infants.