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ICT joins Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations on Capitol Hill as calls grow for his right to return to Tibet

July 16, 2018

The Dalai Lama turned 83 this month, and last week, the International Campaign for Tibet joined the celebration of his birthday with leaders from the US Congress and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

On July 11, the Office of Tibet—which represents the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration in North America—hosted a reception for the Dalai Lama’s birthday that featured remarks from Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Claudia Tenney (R-NY).

The bipartisan group of congresspeople praised the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion and voiced support for his peaceful struggle on behalf of the Tibetan people, who are facing increasing repression at the hands of the Chinese government.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he is working to ensure reciprocal access to Tibet

July 13, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he is taking action to guarantee reciprocal access to Tibet—the principle that American citizens should be able to freely visit Tibet the way Chinese citizens are free to come and go in the United States.

Responding to a set of questions raised by the House Committee on Foreign Relations at a hearing on May 23, 2018, Pompeo wrote “I am working to ensure that US journalists, legislators, scholars, and members of civil society have unimpeded access to all areas [of] China, including the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas.”

Pompeo was specifically asked about the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which aims to end China’s restrictions on access to Tibet and currently has 51 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate.

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Conference on Tibetan and Vietnamese Buddhism highlights need for cooperation to defend religious freedom

July 12, 2018

At a conference on July 11, 2018 about freedom of religion and foreign policy, Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, ran through a list of hardships imposed on the people of Tibet—from extensive surveillance by the Chinese government to restrictions on travel and the stationing of police officers in monasteries—then said that words alone were inadequate to address their plight.

“Simply noting injustice is not enough,” Dorjee said. “We must encourage the US government and others to do more.”

Dorjee’s statement provided an overall message for the conference, which was titled “Freedom of Religion or Belief & Human Rights: Vietnamese and Tibetan Buddhism under threat” and hosted by the International Campaign for Tibet and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

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ICT President Matteo Mecacci raises Tibet with UN and EU officials in Geneva and Brussels

June 28, 2018

On June 26, ICT President Matteo Mecacci attended the meeting between the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein and ICT Chairman of the Board, Richard Gere, in Geneva, where the human rights situation inside Tibet was discussed.

Following that, Matteo Mecacci was in Brussels on June 27 and 28 to meet with representatives from different national and European Institutions.

He first met with the Austrian Permanent Representation to the EU, a week before the start of Austria’s EU Presidency, and presented ideas and concrete recommendations for EU policy on Tibet.

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China identifies new ‘terrorist crimes’ strengthening legal stranglehold on Tibetans

June 26, 2018

  • China has identified “new crimes of terrorism” in a further escalation of oppressive measures that are focused less on protecting China’s citizens and more on the elimination of dissent and enforcement of compliance to Communist Party policies. Guidelines released to judges, prosecutors and security personnel on June 16 (2018) represent a chilling expansion of intrusive measures in which merely sending a text message, involvement in someone’s marriage, or wearing a slogan on a tee-shirt can constitute “extremist” activity or “terrorism”.
  • In a rare acknowledgement of enforcement of counter-terror policies, which have a strongly political application in Tibet linked to an expansion of militarization across the plateau, a Chinese state media article said that the cases of 42 people in one area of Qinghai had been “resolved” involving crimes against “social stability”. This is a reference to the focus on ensuring allegiance to the CCP authorities in order for the authorities to pursue their strategic and economic objectives on the plateau without impediment. The Tibet issue is framed by the Chinese authorities as a “security problem”, despite the absence of violent incidents against civilians or the Chinese government.
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Mass migration program highlights contested nomads’ resettlement policies in Tibet

June 21, 2018

  • China has announced the displacement of more than 1,000 Tibetans from a nature reserve in northern Tibet to a settlement site in Lhasa, describing it as the first “high-altitude ecological migration”. Framing the removal of Tibetans – along with other mass relocations across the Tibetan plateau – in terms of “conservation and protection” fundamentally disregards the essential role of Tibetans in sustaining the wildlife, the long-term health of the ecosystems, and the water resources that China and Asia depend upon.
  • The state media also reported that fencing previously used to control and prevent movement of people across nomadic pastures in the reserve will now be removed – to ensure Tibetan antelopes can roam freely, not Tibetan herders. The fencing of the grasslands, an integral element of policy, had affected the mobility of the antelopes, which Tibetan nomads risked and sacrificed their lives to save in the 1990s when they were threatened with extinction due to poaching.
  • The “ecological migration” program is part of a new approach to set up national parks on the Tibetan plateau, contingent upon the removal of Tibetans from the land. National park status is imposed from the top-down, situating the state as the sole agency of control, and ignoring the concerns and expertise of local people. These policies are increasingly contested even within the PRC.
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Tibetan American Tenzin Dorjee Unanimously Elected as Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom

June 13, 2018

The International Campaign for Tibet congratulates Dr. Tenzin Dorjee whose unanimous election as Chair of Bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was announced on June 12, 2018. USCIRF is a federal government commission established by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.

In a statement, USCIRF said, “In a show of bipartisan collegiality and support for the new Chair, the Commissioners opted to hold the election openly, rather than following the Commission’s usual procedure of voting anonymously by closed ballot.”

Commissioners are appointed for two-year terms, and are eligible for reappointment. In December 2016, Dr. Tenzin Dorjee was first appointed as a Commissioner of USCIRF, having been nominated by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In May this year, the House of Representatives announced his appointment for another term at the Commission.

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TYLP 2018

Tibetan American Youths Learn about American Political Process during ICT’s 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

June 11, 2018

Ten Tibetan students from colleges in Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington State participated in the International Campaign for Tibet’s 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) held in Washington, DC from June 2 to 9, 2018.

During their program, they participated in workshops, team-building exercises, meetings with congressional leaders and Administration officials, and interaction with civil society advocates. Speakers talked to them about relevance of the Tibet Movement in the United States; Chinese perspective of the Tibetan issue; US-China relations; role of civil society in shaping American foreign policy; meditation, and work of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

They spent a full day on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and staffers advocating for their support to initiatives on Tibet, including the Reciprocal Access to Tibet. They visited the State Department, as part of their exposure to the U.S. political and foreign policy process, understanding the Administration’s work on Tibet. They also met with the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.

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Trump administration’s first Tibet Negotiations Report to Congress reflects the absence of a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues

June 6, 2018

The State Department has submitted a report to Congress detailing the steps taken by the Trump Administration in 2017 to encourage dialogue between envoys of the Dalai Lama and representatives of the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan issue, in line with the requirements of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002.

The report, a first by the Trump administration, says, “The U.S. Government remains concerned by the lack of meaningful autonomy for Tibetans within China, ongoing violations and abuses of the human rights of Tibetans in China, and efforts by Chinese authorities to eliminate the distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of Tibetans. The United States believes the Chinese government must address these concerns to create conditions for a sustainable settlement, which is essential to the long-term stability of the region.”

Acknowledging Tibet’s importance on a regional level, the report states the U.S. government “believes that a negotiated outcome that results in meaningful autonomy for Tibetans, and ensures they are able to practice freely their religion, culture, and language, provides the best hope for long-term stability in the region.”

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State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 says China Continues to deny Religious Freedom in Tibet

May 29, 2018

The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 states that in the Tibetan areas, the Chinese “authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. There were reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention without trial, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices. Travel restrictions hindered traditional religious practices and pilgrimages.”

The report, released in Washington, DC on May 29, 2018, by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom states that the “primary sources of grievances among Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns included the requirement that all monks under the age of 18, who are legally unable to join monasteries and Buddhist religious institutions, undergo “patriotic education”; strict controls over religious practice; and intrusive surveillance of many monasteries and nunneries, including the permanent installation of CCP and public security officials and overt camera surveillance systems at religious sites and monasteries.”

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Climate of total 24-hour surveillance as restrictions intensified for Tibetan Buddhist festival in Lhasa

May 25, 2018

The Chinese authorities are imposing unprecedented restrictions this year for the Saga Dawa (the holy fourth month for the Tibetan Buddhists) in Lhasa, with officials on 24-hour watch for Tibetans engaging in devotional activities, according to the Chinese state media.

China does not allow Tibetans who are Communist Party members to take part in religious activities, but this year the ruling is being enforced much more strictly than before in a political climate of total surveillance. An announcement on May 25, 2018 by the Chinese English-language Global Times stated that this year there is “enhanced supervision of order and public security during the festival by assigning officials 24 hours a day and prohibiting Party members from taking part in the Saga Dawa religious activities”. Also, an order in eastern Tibet asked parents not to participate in or take their children to monasteries or religious events during this period.

A professor at Tibet University, Xiong Kunxin, was cited by Global Times as saying that the security measures, which were already rigorous, “have improved, especially in important and crowded places during the festival such as the Potala Palace.” The Jokhang Temple in Lhasa is of profound significance as a place of pilgrimage during the entire month of Saga Dawa, on the 15th of which the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha is believed to have taken place.

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Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk sentenced to five years in prison

May 22, 2018

Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk was sentenced to five years in prison today, accused of ‘separatism’ after appearing in a New York Times video speaking of the importance of protecting Tibetans’ ‘mother tongue’.

The verdict, handed down by a court in Yushu, Qinghai, today (May 22) signals China’s harsh and extreme approach to Tibetan culture and the criminalization of moderate, peaceful efforts within Chinese law to protect the use of Tibetan language.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “This could not be a clearer and more absurd indication of the extremist position of the current Chinese leadership, in which Tashi Wangchuk was condemned ultimately for seeking to speak his own language, and expressing his concern about a future when Tibetan children might not be able to do so. In this case, minority rights outlined in China’s Constitution were on trial, and the outcome reflects the emptiness of China’s claims to protect Tibetan language and culture.”

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Tibetan prisoner released after more than a decade in prison following 2008 protests

May 18, 2018

A Tibetan who participated in the March 2008 protests in Lhasa has returned home two months after the end of a decade-long prison sentence.

Dashar, from Sershul in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), the Tibetan area of Kham, was imprisoned in Lhasa charged with involvement in protests on March 10, 2008, beginning a wave of demonstrations that swept across Tibet prior to the Beijing Olympics that summer.

He was due for release on March 15 but was not released until this week. Dashar’s daughter, who lives in exile, confirmed his release and his welcome home by Tibetans with ceremonial scarves. Details about his state of health are also not known; most released prisoners need thorough checkups and often many months of medical care.

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Monks who studied in India banned from teaching in Tibet; new ruling bans schoolchildren from religious activity

May 17, 2018

  • Highly educated Tibetan monks who studied in India are being banned from teaching Buddhism when they return home to the Lithang area in eastern Tibet. The new ruling by the Chinese authorities is an indication of China’s denial of religious freedom to Tibetan Buddhists who seek to receive teachings from qualified masters, as monks who have studied in India are highly valued for their deep understanding of the teachings. It is also a chilling signal of the Communist Party’s intentions of eradicating the Dalai Lama’s influence and using religion as an instrument to achieve hardline political objectives.
  • In another alarming measure, the Chinese authorities have prohibited Tibetan schoolchildren in the Tibet Autonomous Region from engaging in traditional devotional practices during the holy Buddhist month of Saga Dawa, which began yesterday (May 16).
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USCIRF report recommends re-designating China as a Country of Particular Concern and advocates for passage of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act

April 27, 2018

In a scathing annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that Tibet under Chinese rule has increasingly come to resemble a police state. The Commission recommends that the United States government re-designate China as a Country of Particular Concern, use the Global Magnitsky Act against Chinese officials and agencies responsible for human rights abuses, appoint a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, and pass the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act.

Characterizing China’s strategies towards Tibet as ones of “antagonism and hostility,” the Commission describes pervasive controls on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and heightened interference at the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, culminating in the eviction of almost 5,000 monks and nuns. The report covers China’s increasingly concerted efforts to isolate the Dalai Lama and punish Tibetans for expressing loyalty to him:

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French President Macron’s statement on the Dalai Lama and Tibet

April 26, 2018

George Washington University – On April 25, 2018 French President Emmanuel Macron, on his first official visit to the United States, held a town hall question and answer session with George Washington University students in the U.S. capital. One student raised a question on a possible meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama, leading to the following exchange:

Question: Hello President Macron. Thank you for being here, we welcome you. My name is Walter James, I am a Senior in the Elliott School of International Affairs. In 2016, the Dalai Lama made an official visit to France, but President Holland did not meet with him, nor any member of the French government. Given Beijing’s repression of Tibet and its persecution of the current Dalai Lama, who’s exiled in India, and given France and EU’s positive relations with the PRC, would you meet with the Dalai Lama if he were to return to France?

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State Department notes ‘severe’ repression in Tibet in 2017 Human Rights Report

April 20, 2018

The State Department’s latest Human Rights Report, released on April 20, 2018, documents pervasive repression and high levels of deployments by the paramilitary People’s Armed Police in Tibet. Among other issues, the report tracks the many fronts Chinese authorities have opened in their attacks on the Dalai Lama, including strengthened punishments for Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members who secretly harbor religious beliefs, and the detention of Tibetans who express support for him.

“The U.S. report on the situation of human rights in Tibet confirms the information that the International Campaign for Tibet has been gathering about the deteriorating situation in Tibet,” said Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet. “This message from the Administration complements a series of legislations before the United States Congress, including the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, and their approval would strengthen the call for human rights in Tibet,” Mecacci added.

Examining the ethnic dynamics of Chinese rule in Tibet, the report notes that ethnic Chinese CCP members hold “the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions” in Tibet, and that on the national level, none of the members of the CCP Politburo or the Standing Committee of the Communist Party are Tibetan.

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Sweden charges Tibetan with espionage for Chinese government, highlighting pressures on exile communities

April 19, 2018

In the first known case of a Western government bringing criminal charges against a Tibetan accused of espionage, Sweden has indicted a 49-year old man for spying on Tibetans in exile for the Chinese government. The case, which will be the subject of a court trial, highlights the threats to Tibetan communities all over the world as China continues to intensify both its heavy securitization and surveillance mechanisms in Tibet and its overseas influence operations.

While it is known that Tibetans are informed upon across the Tibetan diaspora, particularly due to the heightened and more systematic activity of China’s United Front Work Department, this is the first time that a Western government has brought criminal charges against a Tibetan. In 2010, in a linked investigation, Sweden sentenced a Uighur man who had been caught informing on other Uighurs to a year and ten months in prison – the highest penalty ever for an intelligence case of this kind in Sweden.

In a strongly-worded statement on Wednesday (April 11), state prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist described the Chinese government as a “totalitarian regime”, telling the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that: “This is a very serious crime. Espionage affects very vulnerable people. People who have escaped to Sweden from totalitarian regimes must feel safe to enjoy their basic freedoms, such as the right to protest against a regime without their relatives being put at risk.”

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