The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said on January 14 that the visit by representatives of the Dalai Lama and releases of some high-profile Tibetan prisoners opened a new chapter in China-Tibet relations, but that there was “little” change for Tibetans in the year 2002.
In its 2003 report on human rights abuses around the world released on January 14, 2003, Human Rights Watch said that the visit to Tibet and China of the Dalai Lama’s Envoys and the release of seven “high-profile” Tibetan prisoners “opened a new chapter in China-Tibet relations,” but that the government continued to arrest “political offenders” and restrict religious practice.
“For Tibetans, little changed,” the report said. Chinese authorities continued to deny access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama and second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, it said.
Overall, the report said China implemented “highly repressive policies” in 2002, using the global war on terror and a pivotal Communist Party Congress as excuses to violate human rights.
Referring to the situation in Eastern Turkestan (Ch: Xinjiang) the report said, “China took advantage of the anti-Islamist nature of the war on terror to deepen its crackdown on ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang…arresting thousands of Muslims there in its latest ‘Strike Hard’ campaign.”
The government increased surveillance of Muslim weddings and rituals, imposed curbs on Uighur language and culture, and made Muslim clerics in Xinjiang attend political indoctrination courses, it said.
The Chinese government rejected the report’s findings. “I think China’s 1.3 billion people have the greatest right to speak on the actual human rights situation in China,” spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told a news conference in Beijing on January 14, 2003.
Full text of the Tibet Section of the Human Rights Watch 2003 Report.
Chinese government permission for a “private” visit to Tibet by personal representatives of the Dalai Lama, and the release of seven high-profile Tibetan prisoners before their terms expired opened a new chapter in China-Tibet relations. The change in policy may have indicated a greater Chinese readiness for meaningful dialogue, or it may have been meant to mute criticism from the international community and remove a potential barrier to foreign investment.
For Tibetans, little changed. Authorities continued to arrest “political” offenders and to place restrictions on religious practice. Even as representatives of the Dalai Lama met with local Tibetan government officials, the latter accused the Dalai Lama of attempting to split the motherland and insisted that talks about his “individual future” were predicated on his willingness to publicly state that Tibet and Taiwan were inalienable parts of China. Throughout the visit, the Dalai Lama’s representatives assured officials that he was seeking a “middle way,” not independence but “genuine autonomy” for Tibet.
Authorities continued to deny access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama and second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism. He was six years old in 1995 when Chinese authorities seized him and his family. Chadrel Rinpoche, who had been involved in the identification and selection of the Panchen Lama, was released from prison, but was reported to be under house arrest. Nyima (Kelsang Yeshe), Panam (Pema Namgyal), and Thubten, three aides to the eighteen-year old Karmapa, another high ranking religious figure, were detained for aiding his escape to India in 1999. In April, authorities seized Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, an influential religious teacher, and several of his staff. Officials in Sichuan province continued to demolish huts and evict residences from Serthar Buddhist Institute (Larung Gar), a monastic encampment housing thousands of Buddhist students.
At a meeting in July of the heads of individual monasteries’ Democratic Management Committees, the leader of the Regional Group for Monastery and Religious Affairs, a local government body created by the Chinese, reportedly said that monks and nuns should “boldly” expose the Dalai Lama and enhance their patriotic awareness. In August, police detained five monks from Drepung monastery for listening to pro-independence songs and for attempting to raise the banned Tibetan flag. That same month, officials and neighborhood committee leaders told Tibetan government workers in Lhasa that they were in danger of losing their pensions and even their jobs if they traveled to Mount Kalish, a sacred site in western Tibet.
In July, authorities closed Tsang-Sul, a privately run school in Lhasa dedicated to preserving the Tibetan language.