On May 2, 2016, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory body, released its 2016 Annual Report. Shortly before the release of the Report, the State Department redesignated China as a “country of particular concern” (CPC). A CPC is defined as a country that engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” religious freedom abuses; such violations are “systematic, ongoing and egregious,” and can include torture, arbitrary detention, disappearances, or “other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” The State Department has designated China as a CPC since the inception of the CPC mechanism in 1999.

The China chapter of the Report notes that the reporting period (2/1/15 to 2/29/16) “was marked by the Chinese government’s deliberate and unrelenting crackdown on human rights and dissent.” USCIRF observes in its key findings for China that, as in recent years, the Chinese government (central and/or provincial governments) continued to “implement a discriminatory and at times violent crackdown” on both Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims and their rights. It states that the PRC government continued its tight control over Tibetan Buddhists, “strictly monitoring and suppressing their cultural and religious practices,” and USCIRF also notes that the central government again stated that it had the authority to select the next Dalai Lama.

USCIRF’s recommendations to the US government include, in addition to continuing the designation of China as a CPC, the following (among others):

  • Continue to raise religious freedom concerns at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and other high-level meetings, and encourage Chinese officials “to refrain from conflating peaceful religious activity with terrorism or threats to state security”
  • Urge the Chinese government to release prisoners of conscience, including those who have been detained or placed under house arrest for peacefully practicing their faith, and continue to raise individual cases with Chinese officials
  • As permitted by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, “impose targeted travel bans, asset freezes, and other penalties on specific officials who perpetrate religious freedom abuses”
  • Develop a “whole-of-government” human rights action plan with respect to human rights diplomacy with China

The Tibetan Buddhism section of the China chapter is copied in full below. To read the remainder of the China chapter, including the complete list of USCIRF’s China-related recommendations to the US government, or the USCIRF 2016 Annual Report in its entirety, please click on the following link: http://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/USCIRF%202016%20Annual%20Report.pdf

Tibetan Buddhists

In 2015, the Chinese government maintained tight control of Tibetan Buddhists, strictly monitoring and suppressing their cultural and religious practices. Government-led raids on monasteries continued, and Chinese party officials in Tibet infiltrated monasteries with Communist Party propaganda. Reports indicated increased government interference in the education and training of young Buddhist monks. In protest of these and other repressive policies, at least 143 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009. Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who had been serving a 20-year sentence, died in prison in July 2015. Supporters of the popular monk maintained he was falsely accused of separatism and terrorism, and there were reports that police opened fire on a group of supporters who had gathered in his memory. Chinese authorities cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body against his family’s wishes and Buddhist practice, leading many to suspect foul play in his death. Also, authorities subsequently detained his sister and niece for nearly two weeks after they requested his body be turned over to them.

The past year was marked by several notable anniversaries: the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, the 50th anniversary of Beijing’s control over the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, also known as the Panchen Lama. Abducted at the age of six, the Panchen Lama has been held in secret by the Chinese government for more than two decades. Also in 2015, the government accused the Dalai Lama of “blasphemy” for suggesting he would not select a successor or reincarnate, effectively ending the line of succession; Beijing also reiterated its own authority to select the next Dalai Lama.