Freedom House Report on Tibet

Polity: One party

Political Rights:7

Civil Liberties:7

Status: Not Free

Economy: Statist

Population: 4,590,000*

Ethnic Groups: Tibetan, Han Chinese

*This figure from China's 1990 census includes 2.096 million Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and 2.494 million Tibetans living in areas of Eastern Tibet which, beginning in 1950, were incorporated into four Chinese provinces. Independent observers estimate that there are at least 6 million Tibetans under Chinese Rule.


While continuing their long-standing efforts to control day-to-day affairs in Tibetan monastaries, Chinese authorities also intensified restrictions on religious observance among government workers and party cadres and introduced new bans on religious practice among students and pensioners, before slightly easing the repression late in 2000.

With Tibet possessing a distinct national history dating back more than 2,000 years, Beijing's modern-day claim to the region is based solely on Mongol and Manchu imperial influence over Tibet in the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, respectively. China invaded Tibet in late 1949 and in 1951 formally annexed the country. In an apparent effort to marginalize Tibetan national identity, China incorporated roughly half of Tibet into four southwestern Chinese provinces beginning in 1950. As a result, when China created in 1965 the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which is autonomous only in name, it encompassed only half the territory of pre-invasion Tibet.

In what is perhaps the defining event of Beijing's occupation of Tibet, Chinese troops suppressed a local uprising in 1959 by killing an estimated 87,000 Tibetans in the Lhasa region alone. The massacre forced the Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to flee to Dharamsala, India, with 80,000 supporters. The International Commission of Jurists called the Chinese occupation genocidal in 1960 and ruled that between 1911 and 1949, the year China invaded, Tibet had possessed all the attributes of statehood as defined under international law. During the Cultural Revolution, China imprisoned thousands of monks and nuns, destroyed nearly all of Tibet's 6,200 monasteries, and burned numerous sacred texts. By the late 1970s, an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans had died as a result of the occupation.

As resistance to Beijing's rule continued, Chinese soldiers forcibly broke up peaceful demonstrations throughout Tibet between 1987 and 1990. Beijing imposed martial law on Lhasa and surrounding areas in March 1989 following three days of anti-Chinese riots during which police killed at least 50 Tibetans. Authorities lifted martial law in May 1990.

Following a series of Chinese ideological campaigns in the 1990s aimed at gaining control over monastic affairs and undermining the exiled Dalai Lama's authority, there was a slight easing of repression late in 2000, according to some observers. The London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN) reported in December that over the previous four months authorities had slightly relaxed bans on religious activities in Lhasa, and were conducting fewer raids on the houses of government workers in search of religious objects. The changes came after authorities had in midyear intensified the raids; banned schoolchildren from visiting monasteries and temples during the summer break; warned government workers and party cadres against participating in religious practices and ordered them to withdraw their children from religious institutions; and tried to restrict public observance of a June Buddhist festival.

The lifting of some restrictions late in the year coincided with Beijing's decision to replace the architect of the recent crackdowns, Chen Kuiyan, with a more moderate figure as the region's Communist Party secretary. Yet the new senior leader, Guo Jinlong, 53, pledged to continue Chen's policies, and at year's end it was not clear how long the minor respite would last.

It is not clear why Beijing replaced Chen with Guo, who has served on several party committees in Sichuan Province and the TAR. One contributing factor may have been the escape into exile in late 1999 of the 15-year-old boy recognized by the Dalai Lama and accepted by Beijing as the seventeenth Karmapa, a leading religious figure. Beijing had interfered in the Karmapa's selection and education as part of its efforts to influence the next generation of Tibetan religious leaders. The most flagrant case of interference occurred in 1995, when Chinese authorities rejected and detained the Dalai Lama's selection of six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the eleventh reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second highest religious figure, and orchestrated the selection of another six-year-old boy as the Panchen Lama. Since the Panchen Lama identifies the reincarnated Dalai Lama, Beijing can potentially control the identification of the fifteenth Dalai Lama.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties Tibetans lack the right of self-determination and cannot change their government through elections. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rules the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) through compliant government officials whose ranks include some Tibetans in largely ceremonial posts. While ethnic Tibetans have served as the TAR governor, none has ever held the peak post of TAR Party Secretary. In addition to maintaining tens of thousands of troops in Tibet, China's People's Liberation Army plays a significant administrative role. Most of China's policies affecting Tibetans apply both to those living in the TAR and to Tibetans living in parts of pre-invasion Tibet that Beijing has incorporated into China's Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces.

Authorities deny Tibetans nearly all basic rights including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Some of the worst abuses are against political dissidents. Security forces routinely resort to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture in response to nonviolent protest, including displaying Tibetan flags or other symbols of cultural identity, holding peaceful demonstrations, possessing a photograph of the Dalai Lama, forming prisoner lists, putting up posters, and distributing leaflets. The Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in its annual report for 2000 that during the year it documented 26 arrests linked to political activities.

The CCP controls the judiciary, which has handed down lengthy prison terms to Tibetans convicted on political grounds. Monks and nuns make up approximately 73 percent of the 451 known political prisoners in Tibet, according to the TCHRD's annual report. In addition to using the judiciary to stifle dissent, authorities also frequently use administrative regulations to detain political prisoners without charge or trial for up to four years.

Throughout Tibet, security forces routinely torture detainees and inmates at police holding centers, prisons, and labor camps. In one of the most serious cases of abuse in recent years, authorities responded to protests at Lhasa's Drapchi prison in May 1998 with torture and beatings that led to the deaths of at least nine prisoners, including five nuns and three monks. There have also been reports of officials sexually abusing female prisoners and subjecting prisoners to forced labor.

While authorities permit some religious practices, they have strengthened their control over monastic affairs since 1996 under a "patriotic education campaign" that is aimed largely at undermining the Dalai Lama's influence as a religious and political leader. Under the campaign, government-run "work teams" have conducted political indoctrination sessions in hundreds of monasteries, aimed at coercing monks and nuns into opposing Tibetan independence, recognizing the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama as the true Panchen Lama, and denouncing the Dalai Lama. Authorities have arrested dozens of monks and nuns for refusing to renounce their beliefs and expelled hundreds more from their religious institutions.

Authorities expelled 862 monks and nuns from their monasteries and nunneries in 2000, bringing the total number of monastic expulsions under the campaign to 12,271, according to the TCHRD's annual report. As part of the campaign, Beijing banned all photographs of the Dalai Lama from monasteries in 1996.

Evidence from the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN) in 2000 suggested that authorities are increasingly extending the patriotic education campaign to Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

In addition to trying to coerce changes in political and religious ideology through the patriotic education campaign, the government continued to oversee day-to-day affairs in major monasteries and nunneries through state-organized "democratic management committees" that run each establishment. The government has also placed strict limits on the number of monks and nuns permitted in major monasteries, although these restrictions are not always enforced, and has interfered with the choice of monastic leaders. The boy the Dalai Lama identified as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama is believed to be under house arrest in Beijing, along with his family. Moreover, authorities have tried to limit the building of new monasteries and nunneries, closed numerous religious institutions, and demolished several others.

While hundreds of religious figures hold nominal positions in local "people's congresses," authorities have banned Tibetan members of the Communist Party or government workers from religious practice. Reporting on what appeared to be a new effort to enforce these restrictions, the TIN said in August that authorities had recently ordered party cadres and government workers to withdraw their children from monasteries and nunneries in Lhasa, and had warned them that if they participated in religious practices, they faced fines and their children could be expelled from school. The London-based organization also reported that authorities had began carrying out searches for religious shrines and pictures of the Dalai Lama at the homes of party members in Lhasa and some outlying areas. Authorities have banned the sale of the Dalai Lama's photograph and displays of his photograph in state offices since 1994.

The TIN also reported that authorities imposed several additional restrictions on lay religious activity in 2000 that targeted not only party cadres and government workers but also students and pensioners. In June, the TAR government threatened civil servants with dismissal, schoolchildren with expulsion, and retired workers with loss of pensions if they publicly marked the Buddhist Sagadawa festival in Lhasa. Authorities also warned school students in Lhasa in July that they faced expulsion if they visited monasteries and temples during the summer holidays.

As one of China's 55 recognized ethnic minority groups, Tibetans receive some preferential treatment in university admissions and government employment. However, Tibetans need to learn Mandarin in order to take advantage of these preferences. In any case, Chinese officials announced in

1997 that they would begin teaching Chinese to Tibetan children starting in the first grade and in recent years have downgraded the use of Tibetan as a language of instruction in education, according to the U. S. State Department. The changes ostensibly are designed to give Tibetan youths more educational and employment opportunities. Beyond the issues of education and government employment, urban Tibetans face discrimination in private sector employment and housing. As in the rest of China, authorities reportedly subject farmers and herders to arbitrary taxes.

Beijing's draconian family planning policy is nominally more lenient towards Tibetans and other minorities. Urban Tibetans are permitted to have two children, while farmers and herders can have three or four children.

However, authorities frequently enforce the nationwide one-child rule in Tibet for government workers and Communist Party members and in some cases reportedly use the threat of fines to coerce women into undergoing abortions and sterilizations. Moreover, the TIN reported in February that unofficial reports suggested that officials were for the first time applying a two-child limit to farmers and nomads in several counties.

Seeking to escape religious and political persecution, some 3,000 Tibetans flee to Nepal as refugees each year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In yet another indication of Beijing's tight control over the region, a report on press freedom in Tibet released in May by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiéres noted that Chinese authorities control all print and broadcast media in Tibet, except for about 20 or so clandestine publications that appear sporadically.

While government development policies have raised the living standards of ordinary Tibetans, the U. S. State Department noted in its human rights report for 1999 that Han Chinese are the primary beneficiaries of many development policies and programs. Moreover, Beijing has encouraged and facilitated the resettlement of Han Chinese into traditional Tibetan areas by providing economic incentives and by building roads and other infrastructure. The resettlement and rapid modernization have altered the demographic composition of the region, displaced Tibetan businesses, reduced employment opportunities for Tibetans, and further marginalized Tibetan cultural identity. Possibly reflecting these rapid social and economic changes and dislocations, prostitution is reportedly becoming a serious concern in Lhasa.

Ending a controversy that had raised questions about the World Bank's compliance with its own lending guidelines, China withdrew in July its request to the bank for a $40 million loan to help resettle some 58,000 mainly ethnic-Chinese farmers into an area of Qinghai province traditionally occupied by Tibetans and Mongolians. In deciding to carry out on its own the Qinghai component of the China Poverty Reduction Project, Beijing rejected the bank's request for project changes that would have led to a 15-month delay. The bank had proposed the changes after its own inspection team criticized the initial project design and appraisal for violating bank guidelines regarding projects affecting indigenous people, the environment, and other concerns.

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