Washington, D.C. – The U.S. State Department said today that China’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China “remained poor”, and the level of repression of religious freedom remained high. It stated there had been “positive developments” in Tibet areas, although the report only cites two – a fifth round of dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s representatives which took place in February 2006, and China allowing a former political prisoner, nun Phuntsog Nyidrol, to travel abroad for medical treatment after 15 years of imprisonment and torture.

“Chinese leaders may be taking an increasingly confident and sophisticated posture internationally, but repression, patriotic re-education, and the use of extreme rhetoric shows the opposite is true in Tibet,” said Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet. “Just this week-end, Tibet’s Party chief, Zhang Qingli, described the Communist Party as the true Buddha of Tibet. This is an inept and grossly inappropriate statement from someone given leadership responsibility in Tibet.”

Much of the information in the State Department report, which tracks governments’ practices during the year, comes from independent Tibet-related news sources including the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, ICT, and Radio Free Asia, indicating a lack of access to information for US diplomats stationed in the Chengdu consulate in Sichuan province and continued difficulties in obtaining accurate and reliable information from Tibet. The 2006 report covers all Tibetan areas currently under the People’s Republic of China, including the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas incorporated into provinces of Qinghai, Yunnan, Gansu and Sichuan.

The report said the Chinese government “continued to strongly criticize the Dalai Lama and to associate Tibetan Buddhist religious activity with separatist sympathies….[and] continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, house arrest and surveillance of dissidents, and arbitrary restrictions on free movement.”

The report found that repressive social and political controls continued to limit the fundamental freedoms of Tibetans and risked undermining Tibet’s unique cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage. The US State Department appears to understate the dramatic impact of the Chinese drive to develop the Western regions of the PRC on Tibetan areas, with only a brief mention of the new railroad from Qinghai to Lhasa, which opened in July 2006. The report does not provide context on certain key issues of concern.

Specific violations highlighted by the report included the following:

  • The security apparatus employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. According to information obtained by ICT, this was the rule rather than the exception. Tibetans repatriated from Nepal continued to suffer torture and other abuse in detention centers, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and were forced to perform heavy physical labor. Many were required to pay fines upon release. According to ICT’s information, this also applies to Tibetans caught trying to escape or re-enter the country;
  • Prison authorities subjected political prisoner Jigme Gyatso to beatings and solitary confinement following a December 2005 meeting with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr Manfred Nowak in Drapchi prison;
  • In August 2005 four Tibetans who were detained after the burning of a slaughter-house in Sichuan Province reportedly remained in detention in Derge County. Sherab Yonten, Sonam Gyelpo, and two others whose names are unknown continued to be held without charges and without access to relatives or defense counsel. Soepa, originally detained with the others, was released after going blind in custody due to alleged beatings and lack of access to medical care. Dawa, also originally detained with the others, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment;
  • Inadequate legal safeguards for Tibetans who are detained or imprisoned. Most judges had little or no legal training;
  • The atmosphere for religious freedom varied from region to region and restrictions remained, particularly in the TAR. Security was intensified during the Dalai Lama’s birthday, sensitive anniversaries and festival days in the TAR and in some other Tibetan areas. In December Tibetan government workers, retired staff and cadres, students, and party members were banned from participating or observing celebrations of the Gaden Ngachoe Festival, which commemorates the death of a 14th-century Buddhist teacher and founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism;
  • The Tibetan-language services of Voice of America and RFA, as well as of the Oslo-based Voice of Tibet, suffered from the same jamming of their frequencies by authorities as Chinese-language services. However, Tibetans were able to listen to the broadcasts at least some of the time. Despite US governmental concern on this issue, in recent weeks, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has announced that major cuts are to be made to the Tibetan language services of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, which have long been regarded as a lifeline by the Tibetan people;
  • On August 8, the newly appointed party secretary in the TAR, Zhang Qingli, sharply criticized the Dalai Lama, describing him in an interview with a foreign magazine as a “false religious leader” and dismissing his “middle way” approach as “splittism.” In a May 16 address to Party officials in Lhasa, Zhang said the Communist Party was engaged in a “fight to the death struggle” against the Dalai Lama and his supporters. The State Department report quotes TAR Chairman Jampa Phuntsok describing the Dalai Lama as a “politician in Buddhist robes and Italian shoes.” (Xinhua);
  • Chinese benefited disproportionately from the government’s development policies in Tibetan areas. The dominant position of the Chinese language in government, commerce and academia left many young Tibetans seeking to get ahead with little choice but to use Chinese rather than Tibetan;
  • Tibetans experienced discrimination in employment for some urban occupations and claimed Chinese were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work;
  • Rapid economic growth, the expanding tourism industry and the introduction of more modern cultural influences have disrupted traditional living patterns and customs and threatened traditional Tibetan culture

The US State Department Annual Country Report is at: www.state.gov.