The Chinese authorities in Lhasa, the Capital of Tibet, have announced the prohibition of students in Lhasa City from participating in religious activities during the holy Saka Dawa, the fourth month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar, according to a press statement by the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD). Tibetan Buddhists believe this month, which began on May 17, is sacred and so traditionally there is an increase in religious fervour at all levels of Tibetan society.

TCHRD says parents in Lhasa City were convened to a meeting on May 14 during which they were asked to stop their children from visiting monasteries. They were threatened with expulsion of the students from school if this order was not complied with, said TCHRD.

Following is the full text of the TCHRD statement released on May 19.

China intensifies prohibition of religious activities in Tibet during the holy month of Saka Dawa

19 May 2007

According to a reliable information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy(TCHRD), Lhasa City Committee members called a meeting of the parents of school going children prohibiting them from participating in religious activities during the Buddhist holy month of Saka Dawa (the month during which the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and passed away) which began on 17 May 2007.

On 14 May 2007, three days prior to the holy month of Saka Dawa, a meeting was called by Lhasa City Committee members among the parents of school going children of Ramoche and Lhubhug area of Lhasa City. In the meeting the school children were ordered to refrain from visiting monasteries, Barkhor area, from circumambulating and wearing amulet thread during Saka Dawa. The committee members warned that those failing to abide by this order would be served with expulsion from school.

Religious ceremonies are restricted in Tibet. Prohibitions continue to be in place for important day like Saka Dawa and Gaden Ngyamchoe, birthday of the Dalai Lama and the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Last year, a joint notice issued on 12 December by the Lhasa City Party Secretary Office and the Lhasa Governor Office which clearly prohibited the Party members, civil servants, staff, public institutions such as schools and banks etc, vocational centres, students and retired civil servants to participate or even see the activities of Gaden Nyamchoe anniversary. It was warned that those failing to abide by the official notice would be served with salary cut, demotion etc. For the retired Tibetans this is especially difficult because of their faith in religion yet their faith restricted by official strictures and dictums. In the past, cadres were unofficially allowed to believe in and practice religion privately, but are now being subjected to closer scrutiny and are liable to punishments and demotions.

Severe religious restrictions were put in place especially in Lhasa City. Plain clothed Public Security Bureau officials were known to have stationed around the city and surveillance video cameras were installed around the major public routes and alleys in the city. In order to screen the incoming people into the city, major security check posts were installed on the roads leading into Lhasa City from surrounding counties of Phenpo Lhundrup, Taktse, Toelung Dechen, Meldrogungkar. Reports from Tibet confirm that small farmers engaged in petty businesses like selling incense and juniper leaves for religious purposes are banned from selling these items on religious days.

The Chinese authorities continue to reinvigorate the “patriotic education” activities for monks and nuns at a regular basis at monasteries and nunneries. There were several credible reports in the recent times about work teams conducting mandatory political training for monks and nuns at specific religious sites in advance of important anniversaries or other events. The government continued to oversee the daily operations of major monasteries. The government, which did not contribute to the monasteries’ operating funds, retained management control of monasteries through the Democratic Management Committees (DMC) and local Religious Affairs Bureaus (RAB.

On 1 January 2007, a new “Measures for the ‘Regulation on Religious Affairs'” with 56 articles was issued by the 11th Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region People’s Government on 19 September 2006 entered into force. The new regulation instead of providing the protection of religious affairs aimed at enforcing compliance with government regulations and policies on religious organizations, religious personnel, and religious citizen. In particular, this new regulation empowers the officials with legal backing to intensify restrictions and subjected to state control and repression.

The Chinese authorities recognize that freedom of religion represents a basic human right as provided in constitution and in the UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR) and the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action. The government’s 2004 white paper on Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet states, “Tibetans fully enjoy the freedom of religious belief.” However, the government maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. Thus resulted in failing to respect right to religious freedom in practice.

China maintained that freedom of religion is protected by its constitutions, in legislation and that these legal safeguards are consistent with the spirit and main provision of international agreements. However, the latest official prohibition particularly for school children during the holy month of Saka Dawa once again demonstrates that constitutional, legal and administrative provisions operate to restrict rather than protect and let the people enjoy religious freedom.

TCHRD expresses its deepest concern at the latest official order prohibiting students from participating in religious activities during the Buddhist holy month of Saka Dawa. The government of the People’s Republic of China is using its iron fist policy to control religion in Tibet. The PRC should abide by the rights guaranteed in constitution and other major international covenants and treaties which she is party to.