On April 30, 2014, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report for 2014. It found that “[f]or Tibetan Buddhists … conditions are worse now than at any time in the past decade.”
The Commission is an “independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.” It issues reports and makes policy recommendations to the President, the State Department, and Congress.
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
ANNUAL REPORT 2014
The Chinese government continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of religious freedom. For Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, conditions are worse now than at any time in the past decade.
Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims
Since the 2008 and 2009 protests in Tibetan and Uighur areas respectively, the Chinese government has intensified efforts to discredit religious leaders, issued new measures to increase government oversight of monasteries and mosques, and implemented new programs to ensure the political loyalty of Buddhist monks and weaken the religious beliefs of Uighur Muslims. There are hundreds of Tibetans and Uighurs in prison for their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy, including individuals arrested in the past year.
Religious freedom conditions in Tibetan areas remain acute. Since May 2011, there have been 127 self-immolations, including 61 monks, nuns, and former nuns. In the past year, there were 18 self-immolations, including nine by Buddhist monks. These protests are directly related to Chinese efforts to control religious practice and culture of Tibetans, but Chinese authorities view these expressions of protest as criminal activities.
Authorities detain senior monks for periods after self-immolations by monks associated with their monasteries, and in April 2013 officials in Dzoebe, Ngaba. Autonomous Prefecture, issued new rules extending criminal penalties to family members, fellow villagers, and monasteries of self-immolators. The December 2013 detention for anti-state activity of popular religious teacher Khenpo Kartse led to clashes between his followers and police, large demonstrations for his release, and the detention for several weeks of monks advocating for his release.
In Xinjiang province in the past year, over 100 people have died in clashes between Uighur Muslims and police and security units. Ongoing tensions were ignited after a Uighur man and five others drove a car through a line of tourists in Tiananmen Square. Beijing views the recent violence as motivated by extremism and separatism, but some contend it is related to China’s heavy-handed restrictions on Uighur religious practice. For example, the person accused of planning the Tiananmen attack reportedly was motivated by the destruction of a refurbished mosque in his hometown. In response to the recent violence, police in Xinjiang have implemented another “strike hard” campaign aimed at curtailing banned religious activity. These new restrictions triggered additional violence when residents of No. 16 village, Aykol town, Aksu prefecture pelted police with stones after they halted Eid Al-Fitr prayers. Over 300 people were detained. In June, in Hanerik township near Hotan, two young Uighurs died in clashes with police after a local mosque was raided, reportedly because the Imam refused to read a government-approved sermon. Uighurs in Hotan remain in jail after being arrested in 2012 for running an independent religious school.