The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has said that it finds no significant changes in the Chinese Government’s “overall policy of strict control over religion in Tibet.” This conclusion is drawn in the Commission’s Annual Report for 2006 that was released on May 3, 2006.
The Commission said, “Reports indicate that official campaigns to promote “patriotic education” in Tibet, and especially in Lhasa, have intensified in the past year.” It also said, “The Chinese government retains tight control over religious activity and places of worship in the TAR. The religious activities of monks and nuns are highly controlled, monasteries are administrated by government-approved management committees, and the Communist Party insists in approving the selection and training of reincarnate lamas.”
The Commission has made some recommendations to the United States Government concerning Tibet. It said that the United States Government should establish a consulate in Lhasa to monitor religious freedom and other human rights condition in Tibet. It further suggested that education opportunities be provided for religious leaders from Tibet “in order to enhance their understanding of religious freedom and other human rights according to international standards.” It recommended that the number and frequency of VOA and RFA broadcast in the Tibetan language be increased.
The Commission has recommended to the State Department that China be listed in the category of Countries of Particular Concern as a severe religious freedom violator.
Former Tibetan political prisoner Phuntsog Nyidron was invited to make a statement at the press conference to release this annual report.
Following is the full text of the report pertaining to Tibet. The report can also be viewed at www.uscirf.gov.
The Chinese government retains tight control over religious activity and places of worship in the TAR. The religious activities of monks and nuns are highly controlled, monasteries are administrated by government-approved management committees, and the Communist Party insists in approving the selection and training of reincarnate lamas. The Chinese government acknowledges that more than 100 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns are being held in prison. Tibetan human rights groups claim that these prisoners are subject to torture and other ill-treatment. There have been some high-profile early releases or reduced sentences of Tibetan Buddhists in the past several years. In February 2004, authorities released Phuntsog Nyidron, a nun who had been held in Drapchi Prison since 1989. Phuntsog Nyidron remained under constant surveillance and her freedom of association was extremely limited until she was permitted to leave Tibet for the United States in March 2006. Nevertheless, neither recent prisoner releases nor renewed contact between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives have brought any significant changes to the government’s overall policy of strict control over religion in Tibet.
The Chinese government continues to deny repeated international requests for access to the 17-year old boy whom the Dalai Lama designated as the 11th Panchen Lama. Government officials have stated that he is being “held for his own safety,” while also claiming that another boy, one of their choosing, is the “true” Panchen Lama. In January 2003, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was arrested on charges related to a 2002 bombing incident and later sentenced to death. U.S. officials were promised that the evidence used to convict Tenzin Delek would be reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court. After more than two years, the case has never been reviewed, though Tenzin Delek’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in January 2005. Additionally, Pawo Rimpoche, a reincarnate lama recognized by the Karmapa Lama in 1994, remains under strict surveillance and is not permitted to leave his monastery.
Reports indicate that official campaigns to promote “patriotic education” in Tibet, and especially in Lhasa, have intensified in the past year. In July 2005, 18 monks were expelled from Sera Monastery in Lhasa for refusing to participate in “patriotic education” sessions. Additionally, 40 nuns were expelled from Gyarak Nunnery in October for similar reasons. In November, five monks from Drepung Monastery in Lhasa were arrested and detained after they, along with several other monks, refused to renounce their loyalty to the Dalai Lama. During the Commission’s visit to Lhasa, Tibetan officials in charge of religious affairs and of public security informed the Commission that although it is not illegal for citizens to possess pictures of the Dalai Lama, it is illegal to distribute them or to display them, since that could be interpreted as incitement to separatist activities. In January 2006, authorities in Shigatse Prefecture reportedly arrested Phuntsok Tsering, the chant master of Magar Dhargyeling Monastery, on charges of possessing a portrait of the Dalai Lama. In April 2005, the Tibet Information Network reported raids in a Tibetan border town in which officials reportedly entered the homes of Tibetan residents and confiscated pictures and books that contained speeches of the Dalai Lama.
IV. Expanding U.S. Outreach and Public Diplomacy in Tibet and Xinjiang
The U.S. government should:
- urge the Chinese government to allow a U.S. government presence, such as consulates in Lhasa, Tibet and Urumqi, Xinjiang, which would be able to monitor religious freedom and other human rights conditions; and
- strengthen its efforts to highlight conditions faced by Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists by:
- addressing religious freedom and other human rights concerns in bilateral discussions;
- increasing the number of educational opportunities in the United States that are available to religious and other leaders from these regions, in order to enhance their understanding of religious freedom and other human rights according to international standards;
- creating legal clinics to assist those in areas of high concentrations of Uighur Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist populations to enforce their human rights under the Chinese Constitution and international law, building on existing programs that serve other ethnic minority areas in China;
- expanding ongoing assistance to civil society programs that promote Tibetan culture, language, and social welfare and developing similar programs for Uighurs;
- increasing the number and frequency of broadcasts in the Tibetan and Uighur languages by the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia; and
- using official U.S. delegations traveling in the region and other means to disseminate among local populations documents on international human rights standards in local languages.