State DepartmentThe US State Department yesterday released the 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in which it said China’s human rights record in Tibet “remained poor, and the level of repression of religious freedom increased”. Unlike last year, the report makes no mention of any “positive developments” in 2007, and lists a growing catalog of human rights abuses in Tibet.

“It was evident to most observers – including the State Department – that the human rights situation in Tibet deteriorated last year. The reports in the last couple of days of peaceful protests being broken up with tear gas, of monks being detained and beaten, and of the sound of gunfire coming from monasteries around Lhasa are sadly predictable given the severity of the situation described by the 2007 report, and could be a harbinger of further clashes between Tibetans and Chinese authorities in this Olympics year,” said Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

As in previous years, the State Department report has drawn upon independent Tibet-related news sources to compile the Tibet section, including information from Radio Free Asia, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy and ICT. The report notes that the Chinese government “strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and, to a lesser extent, Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses.” The report also notes that “foreign journalists were not allowed to travel independently in the TAR,” despite new temporary government regulations lifting such restrictions for foreign media in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games.

In addition, the State Department report notes the steps the Chinese Government is taking to undermine the institution of the Dalai Lama, that a sixth round of discussions between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese government officials “ended with no apparent progress,” and that Chinese government criticisms of the Dalai Lama “escalated” in 2007.

The report presents a comprehensive sample of human rights-related events in Tibet throughout 2007, concluding that the Chinese government “continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and house arrest and surveillance of dissidents” in Tibet, and that fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of movement were restricted. The report also concludes that the preservation of Tibet’s religious, cultural and linguistic heritage “continued to be of concern”.

Human rights violations in 2007 in Tibet noted by the report include:

  • The disappearance of numerous Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople following their reported arrest or detention in previous years, and the lack of information from the Chinese authorities regarding their current whereabouts. The list of people to have disappeared includes the 11th Panchen Lama. The State Department reports that the Chinese authorities “continued to claim he was under government supervision at an undisclosed location”.
  • The detention in early September 2007 of seven Tibetan schoolchildren between the ages of 14 and 15 for writing slogans on their school wall calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. The boys were severely beaten in custody – including tortured using electric cattle prods – and one child was reportedly hospitalized.
  • There was a rise in the number of people known to be detained on political charges in Tibet in 2007, according to research by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China cited by the State Department report; the same research noted that the average sentence being served by Tibetan political prisoners in 2007 was 10 years and 11 months.
  • A Tibetan nomad, Ronggye Adak, was detained on August 1 and eventually sentenced to eight years in prison on November 20 having called for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet at a large public event in eastern Tibet. His cousin, Adak Lupoe, was sentenced to 10 years, another acquaintance, Kunkhyen, was sentenced to nine years, and another acquaintance, Jarib Luthog, was sentenced to three years in prison, all on charges apparently relating to the fact that they provided information about Ronggye Adak’s arrest to overseas organizations.
  • Radio broadcasts into Tibet by Radio Free Asia and Voice of America continued to be jammed in 2007 by the Chinese authorities.
  • The Chinese Ministry of Culture ordered strict monitoring of the content of blogs in Tibet, limiting posting to tourist information and deleting all sensitive information.
  • New regulation promulgated in January 2007 give the Chinese authorities ultimate power to approve or reject the recognition of reincarnated lamas, thereby appropriating one of the foundations of Tibetan Buddhism. The regulations further enhance the government’s control over the daily operations of major monasteries, and place heavy controls on travel by monks and nuns hoping to receive or advance their religious education. The State Department report notes “The quality and availability of high-level religious teachers in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained inadequate. Many teachers were in exile, older teachers were not being replaced, and those remaining in Tibetan areas outside the TAR had difficulty securing permission to teach in the TAR.”
  • The regulations further set restrictions on the size and nature of religious buildings and statues which can be erected in Tibet: in May, a large statue of Guru Rinpoche was destroyed in Lhoka Prefecture in the TAR; and another statue in Darchen near Mount Kailash, and also of Guru Rinpoche, was destroyed in late September.
  • “Patriotic education” was intensified in parts of eastern Tibet, with reports emerging of monks being forced to sign petitions stating they did not want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet; in May, the Abbot of Dunkyab Monastery in Qinghai Province stepped down after refusing to hold meeting or sign documents condemning the Dalai Lama.
  • On October 18, Chinese border guards fired on a group of 46 Tibetans attempting to enter Nepal. The previous year, a young nun was shot dead in similar circumstances, described at the time by the Chinese authorities as “normal border management”.
  • The State Department report notes that the floating population of Chinese migrant workers in Tibet has “rapidly increased over the past decade, especially since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in July 2006.” The report adds also that migrants are concentrated in Tibet’s urban areas, “where government economic policies disproportionately benefited Han migrants.”
  • Efforts to settle nomads in fixed communities continued throughout Tibet, including monetary incentives to kill livestock; according to the State Department report, however, there were “incidences of compulsory resettlement with compensation that was promised but either never materialized or was inadequate.” The settlement program was described by the TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli as a means to counter the Dalai Lama’s influence, as well as an essential party of “continuing to carry out major development of west China.” The State Department report noted that the cost of building permanent homes “often forced resettled families into debt to cover construction costs”.
  • The State Department report adds: “Rapid economic growth, the expanding tourism industry, the resettlement of nomads, and the introduction of more modern cultural influences have disrupted traditional living patterns and customs and threatened traditional Tibetan cultural. Residents lacked the right to play a role in protecting their cultural heritage.”
    While the government has make considerable efforts to restore the physical aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and culture, “repressive social and political controls continued to limit the fundamental freedoms of Tibetans and risked undermining Tibet’s unique cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage.”