The U.S. Department of State released its annual International Religious Freedom Report today. See below for the Tibet section, view the full report at www.state.gov.
The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in other provinces as part of the People’s Republic of China. The 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 country 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 include 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. The government remained wary of Tibetan Buddhism and the central role traditionally played by the Dalai Lama and other prominent Tibetan Buddhist leaders. The heads of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism–including the Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, and Gyalwa Menri Trizin–all reside in exile and maintain close ties with the Dalai Lama. Chinese authorities often associated Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism.
Government control over religious practice and the day-to-day management of monasteries and other religious institutions continued to be extraordinarily tight since the spring 2008 outbreak of widespread protests and unrest in Tibetan regions. Monks and nuns reported that government restrictions continued to interfere with their ability to carry out the teaching and practice of Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions. These restrictions included forcing monks and nuns to undergo extensive “patriotic education” in monasteries and nunneries that included significant amounts of “legal education” which detracted from religious studies. In patriotic education sessions, authorities often forced monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama and to study materials praising the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the socialist system. Monks and nuns fled from their monasteries and nunneries because they faced expulsion for refusing to comply with the education sessions. Overall numbers of monks and nuns in monasteries and nunneries remained at significantly lower levels than pre-March 2008.
The government continued to blame the Dalai Lama publicly for instigating the March 2008 unrest and repeatedly stated that his successor would have to be approved by the government. The newly appointed TAR governor described the Dalai Lama as “the most important cause of instability in Tibet.”
Monks and nuns, as well as lay Tibetans, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports from their local public security bureaus. According to reports, many Tibetans sought to travel to Dharamsala, India, for an audience with the Dalai Lama, which is an important religious rite for Tibetan Buddhists. Likewise, many of the monks and nuns that attempt to travel to Dharamsala, or the other Tibetan communities in India, did so to join religious communities and escape the increased controls over their religious practice at monasteries and nunneries in Tibetan areas. Some attributed the passport restrictions to an official effort to hinder travel for those purposes.
On the Tibet-Nepal border, the government also increased its border forces to prevent Tibetans from crossing the frontier without permission and exerted pressure on the government of Nepal to forcibly return Tibetan refugees. During the reporting period, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documented the forcible return of three Tibetan asylum seekers, including one monk in June 2010. There were persistent and credible reports among Tibetans, based on information from cross-border guides, of asylum seekers being forcibly returned to the country. There were also reports that the government restricted prayer gatherings by monks in the wake of a major earthquake in the Yushu TAP in April 2010.
During the reporting period, Tibetans continued to face societal discrimination, including being denied rooms at hotels. Such discriminatory treatment was particularly severe in large cities–including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu–on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the country (October 1, 2009) and during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo (April 30, 2010 to October 31, 2010).
The U.S. government encouraged the government and local authorities to respect religious freedom and allow Tibetans to preserve and develop their religious traditions. U.S. diplomatic personnel visited the TAR five times during the reporting period. TAR officials often restricted U.S. diplomatic personnel’s ability to talk openly with persons in Tibetan areas. The U.S. government protested religious persecution and discrimination, discussed individual cases with the authorities, and requested further information about specific incidents. The U.S. government continued to urge government leaders 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 effect on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods, as well as the environment.
Section I. Religious Demography
Tibetan areas total 871,649 square miles, nearly one quarter of the territory of the country. 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, or slightly less than half the total ethnic Tibetan population of the country, which is approximately 5.4 million. Well over 500,000 non-Tibetans live in the TAR, including other minorities and large numbers of migrant workers who live in the TAR for several years but are not counted in the permanent population. According to official statistics, the ethnic Tibetan population in the Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and YunnanProvinces was 2.9 million. Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practice Bon, the related traditional Tibetan religion, and a very small minority practice Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Many Tibetan government officials and CCP members are religious believers, despite government and CCP prohibitions against cadres practicing religion.
Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include ethnic Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and traditional folk religions; Hui Muslims; ethnic Tibetan 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, YunnanProvince, is also home to a large Tibetan Catholic congregation. The TAR is home to a small number of Falun Gong adherents, as well as some unregistered Protestant churches.
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 Tibetology Research Center, a CCP -affiliated research institution, there are 1,535 monasteries in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.
The number of monks and nuns in monasteries and nunneries continued to fluctuate significantly, due in part to the patriotic education campaigns and other political campaigns. 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 and nunneries from accepting individuals under the age of 18, hindering the traditional practice of sending young boys and girls to monasteries and nunneries 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 and nunneries without being “registered” or obtaining an official monastic identification card issued by religious affairs authorities. Hence, two population figures exist for many monasteries and nunneries, 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. The number of resident monks was less than the official figure in some monasteries which were placed under greater political pressure that included intensified patriotic education campaigns in 2008-9. Some monks fled their monasteries to avoid denouncing the Dalai Lama.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution of the country provides for freedom of religious belief, but limits protection of the exercise of religious belief to activities the government defines as “normal.” The constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.”
During the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in January 2010, President Hu Jintao stressed that all state guidelines, laws and regulations on religious affairs should be implemented so that Tibetan Buddhism and socialist society will adapt to each other. At the conference Du Qinglin, the Vice Chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), who is also the Director of the Central United Work Front Department, stated that management of monasteries by Democratic Management Committees (DMCs) is essential to the adaptation of Tibetan Buddhism and socialist society to each other. He called upon Tibetan Buddhists to fight separatism. Approximately 150 representatives from Beijing, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces attended the conference.
At the national level, the CCP organization–The United Front Work Department (UFWD)–and the government unit–the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA)–with support from the various officially recognized Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic, and Protestant “patriotic religious associations” were responsible for developing religious management policies. Local branches of UFWD, SARA, and the Buddhist Association of China coordinated implementation of religion policies by DMCs in monasteries. Regulations restricted leadership of DMCs to “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns and government officials.” At some monasteries the government established police stations in the monasteries. The government also supported the development of the “3+1” education model in some monasteries. Under this system, local village committees, family members, and DMCs ensure that monks and nuns cooperate with regular political education. In May 2009 President Hu Jintao personally presented an award to NyemoCounty of the TAR for innovating the “3+1″system.
Officials from the UFWD and envoys of the Dalai Lama held talks from January 26 to 31, 2010 in Beijing. This was the ninth round of dialogue since 2002, but the first since November 2008.
In 2007 approximately 615 Tibetan religious figures held positions in local National People’s Congresses and committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in the TAR. The CPPCC is a political advisory body that nominally serves to allow non-CCP delegates to participate in the administration of state affairs. Although CCP officials are not permitted to practice religion, Tibetan religious figures who hold government positions (for example on the local NPC or CPPCC) are permitted to practice Buddhism. In February 2010 the government-recognized 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, was appointed the vice president of the Buddhist Association of China and, in March 2010, he also became a member of the CPPCC.
Rules and regulations provided a legal basis for government control over Tibetan religious traditions. The Management Measures on Reincarnation (MMR), issued by SARA, codified government control over the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including reincarnate lamas. The regulations stipulate that city governments and higher political levels can deny the required recognition for a lama to be reincarnated. Without official recognition the lama may not function as a reincarnation in a community. Provincial-level or higher 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 that no foreign organization or individual can interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within the country. A registry of officially recognized reincarnated lamas was established by the atheistic government.
The TAR Implementation of the Religious Affairs Regulations (the Implementing Regulations), also issued by SARA, continued to assert state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious groups, venues, and personnel. The TAR government also has the right under the Implementing Regulations to deny 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.
While the form, content, and frequency of “patriotic” education at monasteries varied widely, the conduct of such training was a routine part of monastic management. Increasingly “legal education” was a major theme of the training, as well as abandoning any allegiance to the Dalai Lama, acknowledging the leadership of the CCP, supporting the socialist system, and affirming that Tibet has been an inalienable part of the country since ancient times. Authorities also pressured monks and nuns to express allegiance to the government-recognized 11th Panchen Lama. Government-selected monks had primary responsibility for conducting patriotic education at each monastery. In some cases the government established “official working groups” at monasteries, and religious affairs and public security officials personally led the patriotic education.
In Tibetan Buddhism visiting different monasteries and religious sites both in the region and abroad for specialized training by experts in their particular theological tradition is a key component of religious education. When monks traveled across county or provincial lines for religious teaching or study, permission was required from the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) of both the sending and receiving counties. In addition these restrictions sometimes apply 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 they were unable to leave their home monasteries. These restrictions had a negative impact upon the access of monks to opportunities for advanced religious education. These restrictions, along with regulations on the transfer of religious resources between monasteries, also weakened the strong traditional ties between large monasteries in the TAR and affiliated monasteries in other Tibetan areas. An international non-governmental organization (NGO) reported that monks and nuns who went to India claimed that among their main reasons for choosing to leave Tibet were that they wanted to continue their studies and to obtain a blessing from the Dalai Lama and other key religious leaders.
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 was required for all monastic construction. Likewise, monasteries must request permission to hold large or important religious events. The TAR government also controlled the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics tightly, maintaining that the relics, along with religious institutions themselves, are state property.
Some government officials maintained there was no law against possessing or displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama, but rather that most Tibetans chose not to display his picture. The government also continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama. 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 and Gendun Choekyi Nyima as materials that violated the Implementing Regulations.
Nevertheless, many Tibetans displayed photos of the Dalai Lama and Gendun Choekyi Nyima 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 officials from the local RAB or other agencies. Authorities appeared to view possession of such photos or material as evidence of separatist sentiment.
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.
There were no national religious holidays.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Although authorities permitted many traditional religious ceremonies and practices as well as 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 religious activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence.
The government stated 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. One method used by local authorities to restrict the growth of the number of monks was to impose restrictions on the construction of new housing in the monastery, forcing each dwelling to bear an address plate issued by the local government. Local RABs also frequently refused to issue official clergy permits or monk permits. A February 2009 Ministry of State Security Social Order Working Guidelines made removing unauthorized and underage monks a priority.
In the TAR and in Tibetan areas of SichuanProvince, the government reportedly removed hundreds of monks under the age of 18, unregistered monks and nuns, and monks and nuns from outside of the TAR and Ganzi (Kardze) Prefecture from monasteries. Furthermore, they also removed hundreds of schoolchildren from schools attached to monasteries. Some of the children were placed in public schools to receive compulsory education, but many others were provided with no alternative arrangements. 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. Without documents the parents were vulnerable to losing their jobs.
Authorities closely supervised the education of lamas approved by the government. For example, according to an article in Tibet Daily, the UFWD started a training session in Lhasa on November 5, 2009, for 25 Living Buddhas. Authorities held a similar training session in Chengdu, Sichuan province for Living Buddhas and tutors of Living Buddhas. The purpose of the training was to ensure that the Living Buddhas followed the example of the government-recognized “11th Panchen Lama” by being patriotic and rejecting separatism. The education of the current Reting Rinpoche, who was born on October 3, 1997, differed significantly from that of his predecessors. Historically, the Reting Rinpoche occasionally acted as the regent and had a role in the recognition of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Government officials, rather than religious leaders, managed the selection of his religious and lay tutors.
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, 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. Many leaders of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism reside abroad. For example, the Karmapa, leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s Karma Kagyu school and one of its most influential religious figures, remained in exile after departing the TAR in 1999. The Karmapa said he left because of government controls over his movements and its 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–and, in some cases, DMC-run hotels, shops, and restaurants–for purposes other than the support of monks engaged in full-time religious study under the government policy of monastery self-sufficiency. 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.
In 2004 authorities rescinded the 16-year ban on Geshe Lharampa examinations (the highest religious examination in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism), but restrictions on religious travel, religious education, and the requirements for political qualification still made it difficult to receive the necessary level of instruction. On March 21, 2010, eight monks from the Tashi Lhunpo, Ganden, Sera, and Chamdo Champa Ling monasteries passed the Geshe doctoral examination. In 2010 approximately 180 monks conducted the Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo), which is closely related to the Geshe exam at the JokhangTemple, despite the ban that has remained in place since 1990. Traditionally hundreds of thousands of Tibetans gathered in Lhasa during the Monlam Chenmo.
During the March 2010 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile, numerous monasteries experienced regular police checks and disruptions in cellular telephone, text messaging, Internet, and other communication services. In March 2010 a public notice in Droje Trak and Lhamotse monasteries stated that monks venturing outside of the monasteries must obey an 8 p.m. curfew.
Many Tibetans– including laypersons, monks, and nuns–in Ganzi (Kardze) and Aba (Ngaba) Prefectures in Sichuan were unable to obtain passports during the reporting period. Tibetans in Qinghai and Gansu also experienced arbitrary denials of passport applications. The application process was not transparent, and Tibetans 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 religious figures were able to obtain a passport only after promising not to travel to India. In other cases Tibetans were only able to obtain passports after paying substantial bribes to local officials. Many other passport applications were simply denied. Monks and nuns have experienced greater difficulty obtaining passports since the March 2008 unrest.
The difficulty of obtaining a passport limited 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 Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 838 Tibetans arrived at the TibetReceptionCenter in Nepal in 2009, an increase from 2008, but still significantly below historical levels.
Travel restrictions for foreign travelers to and within the TAR and other Tibetan areas continued during the reporting period, 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 denied entry 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. Foreign visitors are required by regulation to obtain official permission letters issued by the government before entering the TAR.
Spiritual leaders reportedly encountered difficulty reestablishing historical monasteries in rural areas, due to a lack of funding and government denials of permission to build and operate religious institutions. Officials in some areas contended that 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 to promote tourism and boost revenue.
At Drephung Monastery and other religious sites, security forces continue to limit the number of times per week Tibetans could enter the monastery to worship. Such restrictions, however, were less prevalent than in the immediate period following the March 2008 unrest.
After the outbreak of violence in March 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 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 and 2010, when foreign journalists were prevented from entering most Tibetan areas. In 2009 reporters from six news organizations were detained in Tibetan areas outside the TAR although these areas were open to foreign journalists.
After an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale struck the Yushu TAP in QinghaiProvince on April 14, 2010, Tibetan monks and nuns played a crucial role in the rescue and relief efforts. Local authorities allowed monks to conduct a mass cremation ceremony. However, in the weeks following the quake, authorities restricted the ability of monks outside Yushu to assist in relief efforts, often insisting that monks return to their home monasteries. Some monks also reported restrictions on large prayer gatherings in and around Jiegu (Kyegu), the main population center of the Yushu TAP. According to official information, 87 monasteries were damaged in the earthquake. According to another official report, 84 monks from Thrangu, Kyegu, and Rangnyang monasteries were killed, and 100 injured.
Some overseas Tibetan Buddhist leaders were refused permission to visit the earthquake zone. On April 17, 2010, the Dalai Lama made a press statement in which he requested permission to visit the earthquake area to provide spiritual healing for Tibetans, following a request by the Tibetans of Yushu for the visit. Chinese authorities did not respond to the request. Gyaltsen Norbu, the government-approved Panchen Lama, led hundreds of local monks in a prayer service for the dead, according to the Xinhua official press agency. According to numerous Tibetan monks in China, UFWD and RAB officials frequently pressure monks to attend sessions presided over by the government-recognized Panchen Lama.
The prohibition against celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued during the reporting period. Authorities in many Tibetan areas confiscated or defaced his photographs in monasteries and private residences.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
In March 2008 monks and nuns from a number of monasteries in Lhasa and other Tibetan communities mounted peaceful protests, asking for religious freedom and return of the Dalai Lama. 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 violence against Han and Hui residents. The ensuing police actions resulted in an unknown number of deaths, injuries, arrests, and human rights abuses. Over the next few months, there were a number of protests across the Tibetan plateau involving both monks and nuns and laypeople, the vast majority peaceful. In the weeks following the unrest, there were reports of mass detentions of monks and of police and military personnel sealing off monasteries. Cellular phone and Internet access was routinely blocked as “patriotic education” campaigns intensified.
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 in place 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 antigovernment protests. During 2009 and 2010, many relatively small-scale protests took place in the TAR and in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces.
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 and, according to many sources, the monks and nuns released from prisons must live in their home villages and cannot return back to their monasteries or nunneries. Released monks and nuns, according to some reports, require permission from village or county-level authorities to leave their homes to seek medical treatment.
Because of the increased limits on religious practice, particularly in monasteries and nunneries; a desire to study with Tibetan Buddhist religious teachers in India; or to receive a blessing from the Dalai Lama, many Tibetans traveled to Nepal en route to India. There were continued reports that the government detained Tibetans seeking to cross the border from Tibet to Nepal. Such detentions reportedly lasted as long as several months and sometimes took place without formal charges. Chinese police sought to prevent Tibetans from crossing the Tibet-Nepal border and reportedly crossed into Nepal to pressure government officials to forcibly return Tibetans. Three Tibetan Buddhists, including one monk, were forcibly returned to China from Nepal in June 2010.
As of September 1, 2010, the Congressional Executive Commission on China’s Political Prisoner Database contained records of 824 Tibetan political or religious prisoners believed to be currently detained or imprisoned. Of those 824 Tibetans, 479 (approximately 58 percent) are Tibetan Buddhist “religious professionals” (monks, nuns, and tulkus).
At the end of the reporting period, many monks and nuns remained in detention because of their involvement in the March 2008 protests. Several monks also reportedly committed suicide as a result of the harsh conditions and religious restrictions in monasteries that were imposed 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 People’s Armed Police (PAP) and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. According to sources who claimed to be eyewitnesses, the bodies of some persons, including monks and nuns, who were killed during the violence or who died during interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than being returned to their families. More than 80 nuns reportedly were detained in SichuanProvince after March 2008 and their whereabouts were still unknown.
Limited access to information about prisoners and prisons made it difficult to ascertain the number of Tibetan prisoners of religious conscience or to assess the extent and severity of abuses.
In May 2010 Tibetan monk Jigme Guri (also commonly known as Golog Jime or Jigme Gyatso) from 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.
In May 2010 a monk from Aba (Ngaba) Gomang Monastery in SichuanProvince named Dokru Tsultrim was rearrested. In March 2009 he was arrested for writing articles in support of the Dalai Lama. Family members have reportedly been barred from visiting him.
In the winter of 2010, there were two protests calling for the release of prominent Buddhist figure Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who 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.
On December 23, 2009, Tulku Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison. In April 2009 he went on trial for weapons charges related to protests that took place in 2008 in Ganzi (Kardze) County, Sichuan. Police charged they found weapons in his home; the monk and his Beijing-based lawyer insisted the weapons were planted and that he confessed only after being tortured.
On April 11, 2009, PSB officers in NagchuCounty reportedly detained Khensur Thupten Thapkhey, a former abbot of Shapten Monastery, and scripture master Geshe Tsultrim Gyaltsen. They allegedly also detained a third monk, Tsundue, of Shapten Monastery’s Democratic Management Committee.
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 Ganzi (Kardze), after he passed out leaflets calling upon local Tibetans to forego crop cultivation as a gesture of mourning for monks who were tortured and imprisoned after the March 2008 unrest.
According to an NGO report, two nuns from Dragkar Nunnery in Ganzi (Kardze), SichuanProvince, named Yangkyi Dolma and Sonam Yangchen were detained and beaten for staging a protest at the Ganzi (Kardze) County market square on March 24, 2009. 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. Yangkyi Dolma died in a Chengdu hospital from unknown causes in December 2009.
On March 21, 2009, nearly 100 monks from the Ragya Monastery rioted in the Guoluo (Golog) TAP of QinghaiProvince. 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.
No information was available on the fate of monks who protested in front of a group of foreign journalists at Lhasa’s JokhangTemple on March 27, 2008. Monks involved in a similar protest in front of foreign journalists at the Labrang Monastery in GansuProvince on April 9, 2008, were reportedly arrested. Five of the Labrang monks later escaped to India.
In March 2009 four nuns from the Puru-na Nunnery in Ganzi (Kardze), SichuanProvince, were sentenced to prison for their role in a 50-person protest at 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 15 years for their participation in the March 2008 protests at the government administrative headquarters in DranangCounty. A tenth 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 an estimated 300 monks at the Den Choekhor Monastery in JomdaCounty. 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 Ganzi (Kardze) County, SichuanProvince 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 Ganzi (Kardze), SichuanProvince, 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 ChushulCounty were sentenced to prison for their role in the March 15 riot at the ChushulCounty 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 DranangCounty, 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 was available on Rongye Adak, who was arrested on August 1, 2008 in Ganzi (Kardze), TAP, SichuanProvince, after calling for the Dalai Lama’s return. He was convicted of inciting separatism and sentenced to eight years in prison.
The whereabouts of Gendun Choekyi Nyima remained unknown. The government refused requests by international observers to visit Nyima, who turned 21 years old on April 25, 2010. In October 2009, government officials in Tibet told a visiting foreign delegation that Nyima was “growing up very well, loves Chinese culture, and is enjoying his life.” The officials asserted that his identification as the 11th Panchen Lama was “illegal.” The government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, 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.
The government also 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.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were widespread reports from Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypersons that Government authorities pressured them to denounce the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader and to affirm their faith in the CCP and socialism.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
According to several reports, authorities in the Yushu TAP, QinghaiProvince, often tolerated the display of the Dalai Lama’s photo in temporary shelters and in shrines erected to mourn the dead following the earthquake.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Since ethnicity and religion are often interlinked in many parts of the country, 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 they were frequently denied registration at hotels, particularly during sensitive times, including the period around the Beijing Olympics, the 60th anniversary of the country on October 1, 2009, and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. Tensions between individuals of different religious beliefs, such as between Tibetans and Hui in the TAR and TAPs, also were related to economic competition. Many ethnic Han Buddhists were interested in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries. Tibetan monks frequently visited inland Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists. In addition a growing number of ethnic Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries in the summer, although the central government imposed restrictions that made it difficult for ethnic Han Buddhists to do long-term study at monasteries in ethnic Tibetan areas.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The 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. 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; the rate of approval of such requests increased over this reporting period in comparison to 2008-9, but many requests were still denied, and visits to the TAR were closely controlled and monitored. Unpublished restrictions on travel by foreigners into the TAR and other Tibetan areas imposed in March 2008 often resulted in U.S. diplomats and other foreigners being turned back at police roadblocks, ostensibly for their own safety, or being refused transportation on public buses to Tibetan areas outside the TAR that were officially open to foreign visitors.