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 (PRC). 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. These controls intensified following the outbreak of widespread unrest in Tibetan areas on March 14.
The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during the year. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial detention, and house arrest. Official repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement increased significantly following the outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau in the spring. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage continued to be of concern.
On March 10, monks and nuns from a number of monasteries mounted peaceful protests in Lhasa and other Tibetan communities to commemorate the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. During the next few days, laypeople joined the protests. Local police attempted to contain the demonstrations with tear gas and detentions and conducted searches of local monasteries and homes. On March 14 and 15, rioting occurred in Lhasa after security officials used force to arrest some demonstrators, including monks. Some protesters resorted to violence, in some cases deadly, against ethnic Han and Hui residents. Protesters damaged property and stole from non-Tibetan businesses and government buildings. The demonstrations quickly spread to other ethnic Tibetan communities in the TAR as well as in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces, as protesters conveyed solidarity with the monks and nuns, and expressed frustration over restrictions on fundamental rights, including religious practice, and unequal economic and educational opportunities. The government responded by deploying large numbers of People’s Armed Police (PAP) troops to Tibetan areas and violently suppressing demonstrations, which resulted in killings. PAP troops also conducted random searches and arbitrary arrests, and severely limited movement of Tibetans and foreigners. Protests, which at times turned violent, continued in the TAR and Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai during the second half of the year.
Deprivation of Life
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Observers estimated security forces killed up to 218 Tibetans in March and April during the outbreak of widespread protests in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. According to eyewitness accounts, security forces used firearms against demonstrators in Lhasa on March 14 and 15, resulting in killings. However, on March 28, TAR Chairman Qiangba Puncog asserted to a delegation of foreign diplomats in Lhasa that security forces had not used deadly force to suppress the demonstrations and riots in Lhasa. The government reported that 22 persons were killed in the Lhasa violence, including 18 civilians, one police officer, and three rioters. Outside observers, including Tibetan exile groups and such NGOs as the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), variously placed the number of persons killed in Tibetan areas due to official suppression that began March 10 at between 100 and 218. Because the government severely limited access by foreign diplomats and journalists to Tibetan regions, it was not possible to verify independently the number of killed and injured.
Following the March 14-15 riots in Lhasa, more than 125 protests spread across the TAR and other Tibetan areas, occasionally becoming violent. According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports, at least 14 protests involved a significant degree of violence, including the deaths of protesters. On March 15 or 16, in Phenpo Lhundrup county (Linzhou) in the TAR, local police reportedly fired on a crowd demanding the release of the monks arrested in Lhasa for demonstrating. One businessman, Jinpa, was killed and hundreds of monks and local residents were arrested. On March 16, press and NGOs reported that police in Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, fired on demonstrators near the Kirki monastery, resulting in the deaths of at least 10 Tibetans, including monks and three high school students. The Xinhua News Agency confirmed the incident, but reported police had fired in self-defense and did not acknowledge causalities. On April 3, the ICT reported a second incident in which security forces fired on protesters at Tongkor monastery in Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Sichuan Province, killing 10 to 15 persons, including three monks, six women and one child. The TCHRD reported that on May 28, in Kardze, Sichuan Province, security forces shot a Tibetan student staging a peaceful and solitary protest and dragged her away from the scene. The ICT reported that on March 28, more than 80 bodies were burnt together at a crematorium in one county under Lhasa Municipality.
Some Tibetans injured in the unrest in Lhasa reportedly were denied medical care and access to hospitals, possibly resulting in an unknown number of otherwise preventable deaths.
Following the March 14 and 15 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 certain areas. On July 11, official media reported that 953 persons were detained or had surrendered to police in Lhasa following the riots. The report stated that 42 persons were sentenced to prison in connection with the unrest, and an additional 116 were awaiting trial. On November 4, the Xinhua News Agency quoted a statement by TAR Vice Chairman Baema Cewang that 55 persons were sentenced to three years to life in connection with the March violence in Lhasa. Cewang added that 1,317 persons had been detained, “of whom 1,115 subsequently were released,” while the remainder “stood trial.” At year’s end at least 190 Tibetans had reportedly been sentenced by various county-level courts in the TAR, according to TCHRD. In August the ICT released a list with the names of more than 900 individuals detained in connection with the March unrest, 263 of whom reportedly were still in custody. In September the TCHRD reported that more than 1,000 Tibetans remained missing, including 80 monks from the Drepung Monastery near Lhasa. Family members and monastic leaders often were unable to receive information regarding missing family members from local authorities following the unrest.
On March 18, Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche of Tehor Kardze Monastery, a highly revered religious leader and head of Pangri and Yatseg nunneries in Kardze (where demonstrations occurred), was arbitrarily arrested in his home. His whereabouts were unknown at year’s end. On March 23, Dhondup Wangchen and Jigme Gyatso, who filmed a documentary featuring interviews with Tibetans discussing their views of the Beijing Olympic Games and conditions in Tibet, reportedly were arrested, although their whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.
According to the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and TCHRD, on April 7, following a midnight raid on the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa, five monks, including Sonam Rabgyal, Damdul, and Rabgyal, disappeared. No new information was available on the whereabouts of Phuntsok Gyaltsen, the deputy head of Phurbu Township, Palgon County, TAR, who was detained in April 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 August TAR Ethnic and Religious Affairs officials maintained that his recognition as the Panchen Lama was illegal, and that he valued his privacy and was in good health.
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.
According to numerous sources, many of those detained after March 10 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. Tibetan monk Jigme Guri from the Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province told Associated Press journalists that prison authorities beat him repeatedly during two months of detention beginning March 21. According to Jigme, the beatings left him unconscious for six days, and he required two hospitalizations. On November 4, authorities reportedly detained Jigme again for unknown reasons.
Tibetans seeking to flee to India and other countries overland via Nepal risked violence and arrest at the hands of security forces.
The mass detentions connected with the March unrest amplified already crowded and harsh prison conditions. Some prisons used forced labor, including those in the public security reeducation through labor system (RTL), 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 these regulations often were not enforced.
Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
Arbitrary arrest and detention increased substantially in Tibetan areas during the year. 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, and international NGOs reported that police detained thousands of Tibetans following the Lhasa riots for months without notifying their families.
Official state media reported the detentions of 4,434 persons in Tibetan areas (1,315 in Lhasa) between March and April, although some NGOS placed the number at more than 6,500. On March 25, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that 381 rioters in Ngaba (Aba) TAP, Sichuan Province, had surrendered to police. On April 9, Xinhua reported that in the Gannan TAP, Gansu Province, 2,204 persons, including 519 monks, surrendered to police, although police later released 1,870 of them. The same report noted that police formally arrested eight persons in Gannan and placed 432, including 170 monks, in temporary custody.
On November 8, the Lhasa Evening News reported that on October 27, the Lhasa Intermediate Court sentenced Wangdu (Wangdui), a former employee of an HIV/AIDS prevention project run by a foreign NGO, to life in prison for engaging in “espionage” on behalf of the “Dalai clique.” The paper also reported that six other Tibetans, including another former employee of a foreign NGO, Migmar Dhondup, received sentences ranging from eight to 15 years for “espionage” or “providing intelligence to foreigners.”
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 nearly impossible to ascertain the number of Tibetan political prisoners. Many prisoners were held in the extrajudicial RTL prisons operated by the Ministry of Public Security and never appeared in court. The number of political prisoners in Tibetan areas, estimated at 95 in 2007, rose sharply due to the March unrest. Although exact figures were unavailable, the TCHRD placed the number of Tibetans detained in the months following the protests at more than 6,500.
Based on information available from the Congressional Executive Commission on China’s (CECC) political prisoner database (PPD), at year’s end there were 550 political prisoners imprisoned in Tibetan areas. However, the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees was believed to be much higher. Of the 550 documented political prisoners and detainees, 463 were detained on or after March 10 and 385 political prisoners were Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. At year’s end the CECC PPD contained sentencing information on only 20 of the Tibetan political prisoners. The judicial system imposed sentences on these 20 political prisoners ranging from one year to life imprisonment. An unknown number of prisoners continued to be held under the RTL system.
On May 19, security forces reportedly arrested 12 monks from the Dingri Shelkar Choedhe Monastery for resisting patriotic education. On July 26, authorities reportedly arrested Asang Bersatsand, Ngoesoe Konkyaptsang, Jamsang, and Gadho from Nangchen County (Yushu) in Qinghai Province for protesting the Summer Festival.
Prominent Buddhist figure Tenzin Delek Rinpoche remained in Sichuan’s Chuandong Prison. Dozens of monks and nuns who resisted “patriotic education” campaigns before the March protests continued serving prison terms.
The following persons remained in prison: Rongye Adrak; Adak Lupoe, sentenced to 10 years in prison for “endangering national security;” Jarib Lothog, sentenced to three years in prison; Khenpo Jinpa, sentenced to three years in prison; Jarib Lothog; art teacher and musician Kunkhyen, sentenced to nine years in prison; Buchung; Penpa; Jigme Gyatso and Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche; monk Choeying Khedrub from Nagchu Prefecture, sentenced to life in prison in 2001; Dawa (also called Gyaltsen Namdak), sentenced in 2006 to five years’ imprisonment for allegedly distributing pamphlets containing political material; monk Lobsang Palden from Ganzi Monastery, charged in 2006 for initiating separatist activities based on his alleged possession of photographs of the Dalai Lama; teacher Dolma Kyab; Sherab Yonten, Sonam Gyelpo, and two others; and monk Tsering Dhondup.
Denial of Fair Public Trial
Legal safeguards for Tibetans detained or imprisoned were inadequate in both design and implementation. Twenty-one lawyers from across China who had volunteered free legal representation to detained Tibetans following the March protests received warnings from authorities not to take on such cases. The lawyers were questioned, threatened with punishment, and many were placed under police surveillance. One such attorney, Beijing-based lawyer Teng Biao, was barred from renewing his annual law license. 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. In cases involving state security, trials were often cursory and closed. 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 frequently sentenced Tibetans for alleged support of Tibetan independence regardless of whether their activities involved violence.
Authorities sentenced Tibetans convicted of crimes in connection with their participation in the March and April protests in mass sentencing trials, none of which were open to foreign observers despite repeated requests from the international community. On April 29, the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court sentenced 30 Tibetans to terms ranging from three years to life imprisonment. On June 19 and 20, the same court convicted an additional 12 persons. In October a third sentencing occurred with seven Tibetans (including Wangdu) receiving sentences ranging from eight years to life.
During a secret trial in November, a court reportedly sentenced 81-year-old Paljor Norbu, a Tibetan traditional painter, to seven years in prison. His relatives received neither official notification of his detention nor information regarding the charges against him. His whereabouts were unknown at year’s end.
Freedom of Speech and Press
Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to relay information to foreigners outside China, or passed information regarding the March and April protests were subject to harassment or detention. According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), on April 19, authorities detained Nyima Drakpa in Tawu (Daofu) County, Sichuan Province, for allegedly passing information and sending photos of protests to a reporter in Hong Kong. On November 3, a court sentenced Norzin Wangmo, from Ngaba TAP in Sichuan Province, to five years in prison for passing news of the situation in Tibet.
The government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America’s (VOA) and RFA’s Tibetan- and Chinese-language services and the Oslo-based Voice of Tibet. In Ganzi TAP, Sichuan Province, police confiscated or destroyed satellite dishes suspected of receiving VOA television broadcasts. Some Tibetans reported that at times they were able to receive such radio broadcasts despite frequent jamming. In the days following the March protests, official censors cut off satellite feeds from the BBC World News and CNN when the stations aired reports concerning the protests. Domestic media showed images of the March 14-15 violence perpetrated by Tibetans in Lhasa, but did not provide domestic audiences with reporting on the violent official suppression thereof, or on the protests that continued throughout the year. Authorities reportedly also disrupted cell phone, landline, and Internet transmissions in Tibetan areas following the riots.
The government severely restricted travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. Liberalized regulations governing foreign media coverage during the Beijing Olympic Games, which permitted unrestricted travel throughout China by foreign journalists, were made permanent in October but did not apply to foreign journalists traveling to the TAR.
After the March unrest, authorities barred a foreign film crew in Xiahe, Gansu Province, from using email and ordered the crew not to report on police activities at Labrang Monastery. Officials also routinely denied foreign media representatives access to Tibetan areas throughout the spring, ostensibly out of concern for their safety.
Domestic journalists reporting on repression in Tibetan areas faced punishment. Authorities at the Nandu Weekly demoted journalist Zhang Ping from his position as deputy editor after Zhang published an article critical of official censorship during the March unrest on his blog in April.
The Internet blog of well-known Tibetan poet and journalist Tsering Woeser, also known as Oser, remained inaccessible to Internet users inside China due to official Internet filtering. During the year hackers attacked Woeser’s blog site and Skype account. Authorities also refused to issue Woeser a passport. Most foreign Tibet-related Web sites critical of official policy in the TAR were blocked to users in China year-round. Following the March protests, Internet Service Providers censored searches for news reports and blocked Web site footage of the protests. On March 20, Reporters Without Borders obtained a copy of a message from authorities in charge of Internet censorship banning Internet users from posting news about Tibetan events in Sichuan Province.
Critics of China’s Tibet policy were subject to Internet-related harassment. In the weeks after the March unrest, several Beijing-based foreign correspondents received death threats after their personal contact information, including mobile phone numbers, was revealed on the Internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
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. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books (see Protection of Cultural Heritage). Academics in China who publicly criticized the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal.
Freedom of Religion
While the law provides for freedom of religious belief, the level of repression in Tibetan areas increased significantly during the year, especially following the March unrest. Religious freedom often was restricted due to the government’s linkage of reverence for the Dalai Lama 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 was a major factor leading to the widespread protests that began in March. 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 worshipping the Dalai Lama.
Although regional differences in religious freedom remained throughout the year, official respect for religious practice deteriorated sharply after the protests of March 10. Following the unrest in Lhasa of March 14 and 15, authorities locked down many monasteries across Tibetan areas, and detained and physically abused an unknown number of monks and nuns or expelled them from their monasteries. The government expanded and intensified patriotic education campaigns in monasteries and nunneries, prompting additional rounds of protests through June. By year’s end, according to reports from many monks and some abbots, considerably fewer monks and nuns resided in monasteries and nunneries than in the previous year.
Since March authorities reportedly detained more than 80 nuns in Sichuan Province. On March 28-29, authorities arrested more than 570 monks from Ngaba Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County (Aba Xian), Sichuan Province. On May 14, authorities arrested more than 55 nuns of Pangri Na Tashi Gepheling Nunnery in Kardze County. The nuns were peacefully demonstrating against the government’s handling of protesters, as well as official statements that the Dalai Lama had masterminded the protests.
In August an annual religious festival normally attended by tens of thousands of persons at Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province was cancelled, reportedly due to official desire to prevent any incidents from taking place during the Olympic Games. While repression was less evident in Tibetan areas of Yunnan Province, many monks from Sichuan Province’s Aba Prefecture fled to Chengdu and other areas to escape the government’s harsh official response to the March and April protests. As many as 80 percent of the approximately 2,500 monks at Kirti Monastery in Aba’s Ngaba county left the monastery in June and July to avoid a continuing and increasingly intense patriotic education campaign.
Following the March unrest, authorities forced many monks to attend weekly, sometimes daily, political education sessions. On April 3, the government ordered officials across the TAR to conduct patriotic education programs 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 Labrang in Xiahe, Gansu Province, and Drepung and Sera near Lhasa.
Security measures intensified in the TAR and other Tibetan areas during the Dalai Lama’s birthday, sensitive anniversaries, and festival days. The prohibition on celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued.
The government maintained and intensified its criticism of the Dalai Lama after the events of March 14 and 15, blaming him for instigating the widespread protests and rejecting claims that the protests signaled systemic problems with its Tibet policy. According to the domestic press, shortly after the events of March 14-15, Secretary of the CCP TAR Committee Zhang Qingli told regional officials that the Dalai Lama was “a wolf in Buddhist monk’s robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast.” An official white paper released by the government in September stated, “the Dalai Lama and his clique are the chief representatives of the backward feudal serfdom system and culture of theocratic rule and religious despotism that used to prevail.”
In May, July, and November Chinese government officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama held three rounds of discussions with no progress.
The government continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama. Photos of the “official” Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, were not widely displayed except at some high-profile monasteries and then only at the insistence of government leaders. However, photos 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 TAR had 1,750 registered religious venues. Government officials closely associated Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas.
The government restricts ethnic Han Buddhists from living and studying in monasteries in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Monks outside the TAR who want 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 to teach.
Monasteries in the TAR were not allowed to establish relationships with other monasteries or hold joint religious activities.
The Government continued to fund restoration efforts of religious and cultural sites as part of its program to develop tourism in Tibetan areas. The Xinhua News Agency reported that on April 18 the government launched a RMB 570 million (approximately $83 million) program to preserve 22 historical and cultural sites in the TAR, including 15 monasteries. The same report noted that, “over the past two decades China has invested more than RMB 700 million to preserve and maintain more than 1,400 monasteries, cultural relics and religious sites.” Nevertheless, many monasteries destroyed during the Cultural Revolution were not rebuilt or repaired, and others remained only partially repaired. Most recent restoration efforts were funded privately, although a few religious sites also received government support for reconstruction projects during the year.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt.
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. Many Tibetans, particularly prominent religious figures, scholars, and dissidents, as well as those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports.
After March 14, freedom of movement in Tibetan areas was limited severely within Lhasa, throughout the TAR, and in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan. The PAP and local Public Security Bureaus set up multiple roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of monasteries. Following the March protests in Lhasa and other Tibetan communities, authorities sent many monks from outside the TAR back to their home monasteries even if they had resided in Lhasa monasteries for several years. Several monks also reported encountering severe difficulty traveling between monasteries following the March unrest. Authorities barred foreign nationals from entering most Tibetan areas. Movement in some areas opened up slightly at the end of the summer, and in late June foreign nationals with permission were allowed to travel to Lhasa again, although their movements within the city and surrounding areas remained restricted.
Tibetans continued to encounter substantial difficulties and obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. The government placed restrictions on 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.
The reinforcement of border controls during the year sharply reduced the number of people crossing the border into Nepal and India. The Tibet Reception Center in Dharamsala, India, received 627 visitors during the year.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a drastic reduction in the number of Tibetans who arrived at the Tibetan Reception Center in Nepal during the year. Arrivals virtually ceased following the breakout of unrest in March and the ensuing near closure of the China/Nepal border. At the end of the summer, Tibetans began to trickle across the border, but by year’s end there were only 596 arrivals, compared to 2,156 in 2007. The few arrivals who succeeded in entering Nepal reported an intimidating police presence in the border areas. Monks and nuns also reported greater difficulty traveling within Tibet.
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 government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. After the March 14 demonstrations, access to the area by foreign nationals was impossible in practice. Authorities prohibited more than two dozen foreign reporters from entering Tibetan areas, and authorities forced some reporters to leave. According to Chinese press reports, the region reopened to domestic tourists on April 24 and foreign tourists on June 25, although tourists and diplomats reported continued difficulty in securing permission to travel. Foreign diplomats must obtain permission from the TAR’s Foreign Affairs Office for each visit to the TAR.
Official visits to the TAR were supervised closely and afforded delegation members very few opportunities to meet local persons not previously approved by the authorities. Foreigners could not travel freely in most Tibetan areas outside the TAR after March 14. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international observers to visit Tibetan areas to assess the situation, including a request by then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
Although TAR census figures show 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. Some Tibet experts in China asserted that the catastrophic May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province led to a temporary decrease in the TAR’s migrant population as many migrants returned to their hometowns in the disaster area to assist relatives in rebuilding.
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.
Family planning policies permitted Tibetans and members of other minority groups to have more children than Han. Urban Tibetans, including CCP members, and some ethnic Han living in Tibetan areas, generally were limited to two children. Rural Tibetans were encouraged, but not always required, to limit births to three children.
Since 2000 the government implemented a 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 December 27 report by the Xinhua News Agency, during the year 57,800 TAR nomad and farming households were resettled into permanent housing. The report states “to date, 860,000 farmers and herders from 170,000 families have moved into the new houses.” 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 2007 state media report noted that Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups made up 60 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 protests. Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment and 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.
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, although some estimates placed the number as high as 10,000. 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 56 cases of HIV/AIDS in the TAR between 1994 and 2007. Lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and economic pressures on women and girls in prostitution to engage in unprotected sex made them particularly vulnerable.
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.
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. Miscellaneous fees for the TAR’s 131,000 middle school students were abolished in 2007.
Protection of Cultural Heritage
Rapid economic growth, the expanding tourism industry, the 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.
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. The opening of the Qinghai-TAR railroad in 2006 increased migration of non-Tibetans into the TAR. The government reported the railroad carried 1.5 million passengers in 2007, approximately half of whom were non-tourists.
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. In recent years the government attempted to restore some temples and other physical vestiges of Tibetan Buddhism and culture that were damaged or destroyed before and during the Cultural Revolution.
Tibetan and Mandarin are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appear 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 was 15 percent at the end of 2005. 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 instruction only in Mandarin, while the 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.
The entire section on Tibet can be read on the US State Department’s website »