Washington, D.C. – In its annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released December 18, 2003, the U.S. State Department comprehensively describes continuing religious suppression by the Chinese government in Tibet.

“This report shows that systematic suppression of religion and culture in Tibet continues to this day,” said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

“Monks and nins in Tibet today face the threat of imprisonment and torture or expulsion for minor, non-violent acts or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Markey.

“ICT calls on the U.S. government to take tough action with China to match the degree of religious suppression in Tibet that it describes in this report,” Markey continued.

The U.S. Congress mandated the State Department’s annual reporting on religious freedom, and the 2003 report is the fifth edition. This year’s Tibet section is the most comprehensive to date. By discussing incidents of religious suppression across Tibet, including in Tibetan areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the report presents a clearer understanding of policies affecting all Tibetans.

On certain issues, however, the reporting continues to fall short or presents an incomplete picture of the severity of religious persecution across the Tibetan plateau. For example, in describing Tibetan areas outside the TAR as having relatively more religious freedom, the report fails to take into account a series of crackdowns on religious activities of Tibetans in Amdo and Kham (Tibetan areas in Gansu and Sichuan provinces) during 2003.

ICT has documented a growing trend, particularly in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan province), where Chinese officials have targeted Tibetan monastic leaders, institutions and lay practitioners alike with methods of persecution similar to those used to suppress religious practice in the TAR. Several notable examples were unaccounted for in the religion report:

  • In July 2003, in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, Kirti Monastic School was officially closed after being a constant target of the local Chinese authorities since 1998.
  • In August 2003, in Ngaba, Public Security Bureau officials confiscated a large number of pictures of the Dalai Lama from Khangmar monastery and arrested six monks for political offenses.
  • In October 2003, Radio Free Asia reported the death of Nyima Dragpa, a Tibetan monk from Nyitso monastery in the Kardze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, who had allegedly been tortured repeatedly during the time he spent in prison serving a 9-year sentence for “splittist” activities.
  • In November 2003, authorities in Kardze reportedly threatened the local populace with confiscation of their lands if they did not hand over portraits for the Dalai Lama.

While the report is generally accurate and tough, the Department of State continues to repeat some misleading statements, such as implying that it is only religious activity connected with separatism that is suppressed. A number of regulations detailed in this report, such as limitations on the number of monks allowed in each monastery, have nothing to do with separatism but are mainstays of China’s assault on Tibetan Buddhist culture.

The State Department also fails to fully recognize the legitimate authority of Tibetan Buddhist leaders – rather than Chinese political authorities – to select reincarnate lamas, such as the Panchen Lama.

“By listing China among ‘totalitarian or authoritarian regimes that control religious belief or practice’ the United States has demonstrated that there continues to be a significant disparity between Chinese and American values in the area of religious freedom,” said Markey.

“The United States needs to act on its findings by working vigorously to move the dialogue between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama or his representatives forward to a mutually acceptable conclusion,” Markey concluded.