State Department Religious Freedom Report
State Department International Religious Freedom Report 2001
Released on October 26, 2001.
Sunday, October 28, 2001
Tibet (This section of the report on China has been prepared pursuant to Section
536(b) of Public Law 103-236. The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)--hereinafter referred to as "Tibet"--to be part of the People's Republic of China. Preservation and development of Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage and protection of its people's fundamental human rights continue to be of concern.)
The Constitution of the People's Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief; however, the Government maintains tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibet. Although the authorities permit some traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppress those activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent, such as religious activities that are perceived as advocating Tibetan independence or any form of separatism (which the Chinese Government describes as "splittist").
The Government strictly controls access to and information about Tibet, and it is difficult to determine accurately the scope of religious freedom violations. Nevertheless, repression of religious freedom in Tibet reached severe levels during the summer of 2000, with serious restrictions imposed on lay practices. However, these restrictions apparently were not enforced as strictly by the end of 2000. The overall level of repression in Tibet remained high, and the Government's record of respect for religious freedom remained poor during the period covered by this report.
In the aftermath of the "patriotic education" campaign begun in the mid-1990s, patriotic education activities continued but at a lower level of intensity as the Government declared "success" in increasing control over the Tibetan Buddhist establishment. However, many persons, including monks and nuns, were arrested for attempting to protest peacefully or for refusing to abide by rules imposed by government authorities in Buddhist monasteries.
These rules include the renunciation of the Dalai Lama and the acceptance of Tibet as a part of China. Many other monks and nuns remain in detention, some serving long prison terms, for similar offenses. There were reports of the death of religious prisoners, as well as the imprisonment and abuse or torture of monks and nuns accused of political activism.
Although the Christian population in Tibet is extremely small, there is societal pressure aimed at converts, some of whom reportedly have been disinherited by their families.
The U.S. Government continued to make a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibet, by urging the central government and local authorities to respect religious freedom, by protesting credible reports of religious persecution or discrimination, by discussing cases with the authorities, and by requesting information about specific incidents.
Section I. Religious Demography Tibet has a total land area of 471,700 square miles, and according to Government figures, its population is approximately 2.62 million. Most persons practice Tibetan Buddhism to some degree. Many ethnic Tibetan government officials and some ethnic Tibetan Communist Party members quietly practice Buddhism. While officials state that there is no Falun Gong activity in the TAR, reports indicate that there are small numbers of practitioners in the region among the ethnic Han population. Small numbers of Tibetan Muslims and Christians also live in the region.
Chinese officials state that Tibet has more than 46,300 Buddhist monks and nuns and approximately 1,787 monasteries, temples, and religious sites.
Officials have used these same figures for several years, although the numbers of monks and nuns have dropped at many sites, especially since the beginning of the "patriotic education" campaign in the mid-1990s, which resulted in the expulsion from monasteries and nunneries of many monks and nuns who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama or who were found to be "politically unqualified" to be monks or nuns. These numbers represent only the Tibet Autonomous Region; over 100,000 monks and nuns live in other Tibetan areas of China, including parts of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, and Qinghai Provinces.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom Legal/Policy Framework The Constitution of the People's Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups. The Government maintains tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibet. Although the authorities permit some traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppress those activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent, such as religious activities that are perceived as advocating Tibetan independence or any form of separatism (which the Government describes as "splittist"). The authorities also regularly require monks and nuns to make statements overtly supporting government or party policies on religion and history, to pledge themselves to support officially approved religious leaders and reincarnations, and to denounce the Dalai Lama.
The Government continued its harsh rhetorical campaign against the Dalai Lama and his leadership of a "government-in-exile." The official press continued to criticize vehemently the "Dalai clique," and in an attempt to undermine the credibility of his religious authority, repeatedly described the Dalai Lama as a "criminal" who was determined to split China. Both the central government and local officials often insist that dialog with the Dalai Lama is essentially impossible, and claim that his actions belie his repeated public assurances that he does not advocate independence for Tibet.
Nonetheless the Government asserts that the door to dialog and negotiation is open provided that the Dalai Lama publicly affirms that Tibet is an inseparable part of China. Since 1998, the Government also has required the Dalai Lama to affirm publicly that Taiwan is a province of China.
The Government claims that since 1976 it has contributed sums in excess of $40 million (approximately 300 to 400 million RMB) toward the restoration of tens of thousands of Buddhist sites, which were destroyed before and during the Cultural Revolution. Government funding of restoration efforts ostensibly was done to support the practice of religion, but also was done in part to promote the development of tourism in Tibet. Most recent restoration efforts were funded privately, although several large religious sites also were receiving government support for reconstruction projects at the end of the period covered by this report.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom Buddhist monasteries and pro-independence activism are closely associated in Tibet, and the Government has moved to curb the proliferation of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, which it charges are a drain on local resources and a conduit for political infiltration by the Tibetan exile community. The Government states that there are no limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, and that each monastery's democratic management committee (DMC)
decides on its own how many monks the monastery can support. However, these committees are government-controlled, and in practice, the authorities impose strict limits on the number of monks in major monasteries. The Government has the right to disapprove any individual's application to take up religious orders, although these restrictions are not always enforced.
Monasteries continue to house and train young monks. Although by regulation monks are prohibited from joining a monastery prior to the age of 18, many younger boys in fact continue the tradition of entering monastic life.
However, in some large monasteries young novices, who traditionally served as attendants to older monks while receiving a basic monastic education and awaiting formal ordination, have been expelled in recent years for being underage. The fact that these novices were not regular members of the monasteries has allowed authorities to deny that there has been a significant decline in the numbers at those sites.
The Government continued to oversee the daily operations of major monasteries. The Government, which does not contribute to monasteries' operational funds, retains management control of the monasteries through the DMC's and the local religious affairs bureaus. In many areas, regulations restrict leadership of the DMC's to "patriotic and devoted" monks and nuns and specify that the Government must approve all members of the committees. At some major monasteries, government officials also sit on the committees. Despite these efforts to control the Buddhist clergy and monasteries, antigovernment sentiment remains strong.
In recent years, DMC's at several large monasteries have begun to collect all funds generated by sales of entrance tickets or donated by pilgrims.
These funds previously were disbursed to monks engaged in full-time religious study for advanced religious degrees. Such "scholar monks" must now engage in income-generating activities at least part of the time.
Several experts are concerned that fewer monks will be qualified to serve as teachers in the future as a result.
In the aftermath of the Government's "patriotic education" campaign, which began in the mid-1990s, patriotic education activities continued but at a lower level of intensity as the Government declared "success" in increasing control over the Tibetan Buddhist establishment. It did this by enforcing compliance with government regulations, and either cowing or weeding out monks and nuns who refuse to adopt the Party line and remain sympathetic to the Dalai Lama. During the period covered by this report, the Government continued to dispatch work teams to religious sites where they conducted mandatory lessons for monks and nuns. The work teams, which have been largely unsuccessful in changing Tibetans' attitudes, require monks to be "patriotic," and to demonstrate this by signing a declaration agreeing to reject independence for Tibet; rejecting Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama; rejecting and denouncing the Dalai Lama; recognizing the unity of China and Tibet; and not listening to the Voice of America or Radio Free Asia.
According to some reports, monks who refused to sign were expelled from their monasteries and were not permitted to return home to work. Others were forced to leave their monasteries after failing to pass political exams associated with the campaigns, and still others left "voluntarily" rather than denounce the Dalai Lama. Monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists deeply resented the Government's efforts. Although there has been some reduction of patriotic education activities throughout the region, religious activities in many monasteries and nunneries were disrupted severely, and monks and nuns have fled to India to escape the campaigns. Approximately 3,000 Tibetans enter Nepal each year to escape conditions in Tibet, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; one third of these refugees claim that they left because of the "patriotic reeducation" campaigns.
In June 2001, authorities ordered thousands of monks and nuns to leave the Larung Gar monastic encampment (also known as Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute), located in the Ganze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province. Of the more than 7,000 monks and nuns who resided at Serthar, only
1,400 will be allowed to remain after October 2001 (for more information about this incident, see Section II of the China International Religious Freedom Report).
After the Karmapa, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism's Karma Kargyu school and one of the most influential religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism, escaped to India in December 1999, authorities increased efforts to exert control over the process for finding and educating reincarnated lamas. The Government approved the selection of 2-year-old Sonam Phuntsog on January
16, 2000, as the seventh reincarnation of the Reting Rinpoche. However, the Dalai Lama, who normally must approve the selection of important religious figures such as the Reting Rinpoche, did not recognize the choice. Many of the monks at Reting Monastery reportedly did not accept the child as the Reting Rinpoche, and he now lives with his family under heavy guard in his residence near the monastery; authorities tightly controlled access to the area. Another young reincarnate lama, Pawo Rinpoche, also lives under house arrest at Nenang Monastery; Pawo Rinpoche, who is approximately seven years of age, was recognized by the Karmapa as the 18th reincarnation of an important Karma Kargyu lineage. He has been denied access to his religious tutors, and authorities reportedly are requiring that he attend a regular Chinese school. Foreigners, including foreign officials, were repeatedly denied permission to visit his monastery.
The Government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy it selected in 1995, is the Panchen Lama's 11th reincarnation. The authorities tightly control all aspects of his life, and he has appeared publicly in Beijing and Tibet only on rare occasions. His public appearances were marked by a heavy security presence. At all other times, the authorities strictly limited access to the boy. The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism's second most prominent figure, after the Dalai Lama.
The ban on the ownership or public display of photographs of the Dalai Lama continued, and such pictures were not readily available except through illegal means. In the spring of 2000, Lhasa area neighborhood committees began sending teams to the homes of ordinary citizens to confiscate books about and pictures of the Dalai Lama. By the end of 2000, these searches no longer were taking place on a regular basis, and a few pictures of the Dalai Lama were again seen in public areas. Similar bans were in effect in Tibetan areas outside the TAR, although by the spring of 2001 the Dalai Lama's portrait was reappearing in shops and religious sites in several regions.
However, the Government still banned pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama.
Some 1,000 religious figures hold positions in local people's congresses and committees of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
However, the Government continues to insist that Communist Party members and senior government employees adhere to the Party's code of atheism. A 3-year drive to promote atheism and science, first announced in January 1999 and originally aimed at government workers, continued and was extended to more government offices and to schools. The drive was launched to promote economic progress, strengthen the struggle against separatism, and stem "the Dalai clique's reactionary infiltration." Government officials confirmed that all RAB officers are members of the Communist Party, and that Party members are required to be atheists. However, not all lower level members of the local RAB's are atheists.
During the spring and summer of 2000, in Lhasa and other areas, the authorities increased restrictions on religious activities, prohibiting Communist Party officials and government employees (including such groups as teachers and medical workers) from going into monasteries, visiting the Jokhang Temple, having altars in their homes, participating in religious activities during the Tibetan New Year (Losar), such as placing new prayer flags on their roofs, burning incense and making the traditional "lingkor"
(pilgrimage circuit around the sacred sites of Lhasa during the festival of Sagadawa--the most important religious holiday in Tibetan Buddhism).
In some areas, many private citizens were also pressured to comply with these restrictions. Some government employees were forbidden to make donations to monks and nuns in Lhasa. Authorities in some parts of Lhasa also searched private homes for religious objects or pictures of the Dalai Lama.
In February 2001, the Tibet Information Network (TIN), an independent news and research service, reported that government workers, cadres and schoolchildren were told to celebrate Losar at home and were not permitted to attend prayer festivals at the monasteries or make financial donations to temples or monasteries. However, despite the clampdown, many pilgrims and other Tibetans still made religious offerings at the main temples in Lhasa.
In June 2001, the TIN also reported that Lhasa authorities issued a public notice reinforcing the ban on celebrations of the Dalai Lama's birthday. In recent years Tibetans have been forbidden to hold traditional incense-burning ceremonies anywhere in Lhasa, and some places of worship were closed on that day. Despite these reports, however, many private citizens and government officials were again participating in religious practices that had been banned six months earlier, such as visiting monasteries, making the "lingkor," and changing the prayer flags on the roofs of their homes during Losar.
Travel restrictions also were reported during the period covered by this report. The Government tightly controlled visits by foreign officials to religious sites, and official foreign delegations had few opportunities to meet monks and nuns not previously approved by the local authorities.
Abuses of Religious Freedom The Government strictly controls access to and information about Tibet, and it is difficult to determine accurately the scope of religious freedom violations. Nevertheless, repression of religious freedom in Tibet reached severe levels during the summer of 2000, with serious restrictions imposed on lay practices. However, these restrictions apparently were not enforced as strictly by the end of 2000. The overall level of repression in Tibet remained high, and the Government's record of respect for religious freedom remained poor during the period covered by this report.
According to the TIN, at least 26 monks and nuns have died while in detention since 1989, of whom at least 17 had been held in Lhasa's Drapchi Prison. During the period covered by this report, there were additional accounts of prisoner deaths, either while in detention or soon after release. According to unconfirmed reports, Lobsang Sherab, a monk from Sera Monastery, died soon after his release from Lhasa's Sitru detention center in the fall of 2000. He reportedly had been tortured while in detention, and also was poorly treated when imprisoned in the Trisam reeducation center from 1996 to 1998.
Ngawang Lochoe (or Dondrub Drolma), a nun at Sandrup Dolma Lhakhang temple, reportedly died in February after serving 9 years of a 10 year sentence for counterrevolutionary propaganda and instigation.
In February 2001, the TIN published a comprehensive study that listed a total of 197 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns detained in China, a majority of whom were imprisoned in the TAR. In April 2000, the director of the TAR Prison Administration Bureau told a visiting foreign delegation that there were over 100 monks and nuns imprisoned in the TAR's three prisons, of whom
90 percent were incarcerated for "endangering state security." There were reports of imprisonment and abuse or torture of monks and nuns accused of political activism. Prisoners who resisted political reeducation imposed by prison authorities, particularly demands to denounce the Dalai Lama and accept Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy recognized by the Government as the Panchen Lama, were beaten. The TIN reported severe beatings of several nuns serving long prison sentences, including Ngawang Choezom and Phuntsog Nyidrol, imprisoned in 1989 for singing pro-independence songs. Government officials stated that because Phuntsog Nyidrol has shown repentance, her sentence has been reduced by one year. She is scheduled to be released in 2005. Nun Ngawang Sangdrol also was beaten severely on multiple occasions and held in solitary confinement for an extended period. Her prison sentence was extended for a third time in 1998, for taking part in demonstrations in prison, to a total of 21 years. Ngawang Sangdrol's health continues to be of concern, despite government officials' assertions that her health is fine.
The Government continued to control the movements of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama, along with his family. He first disappeared in 1995 when he was six years old. Government officials have claimed that the boy is under government supervision for his own protection and that he lives in Tibet and attends classes as a "normal schoolboy." The location of Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family remains unknown, and all requests from the international community for access to the boy to confirm his whereabouts and his well-being have been refused. In November 1999, the Government denied press reports that Gendun Choekyi Nyima had died and had been cremated secretly; however, the Government continued to refuse international observers access to the boy. In October 2000, Government officials showed members of a foreign delegation two photographs that purportedly depicted the boy. Although the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize the boy identified by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, Tibetan monks have claimed that they were forced to sign statements pledging allegiance to the boy the Government selected. The Communist Party also urged its members to support the "official" Panchen Lama.
According to credible reports, Chadrel Rinpoche, who was accused by the Government of betraying state secrets while helping the Dalai Lama choose the incarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama, was imprisoned in a secret compound of a Sichuan prison in 1995. In 2000, the Government told a visiting foreign delegation that he was "fine physically." Chadrel Rinpoche's original prison sentence ended in May 2001, but he remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report.
Following the December 1999 flight of the Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, to India, authorities restricted access to the Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapa, and reportedly increased "patriotic education" activities there. In several public statements, the Karmapa stated that he left because of controls on his movements and the refusal either to allow him to go to India to be trained by his spiritual mentors or to allow his mentors to come to him. Following his flight, the TIN reported that at least two Tsurphu monks were arrested and that the Karmapa's parents were placed under surveillance. Government officials denied that there were any arrests or that the Karmapa's parents have faced restrictions of any kind. Nonetheless, in January 2001 the TIN reported that conditions at Tsurpu remain tense, with a permanent police presence and intensified restrictions on monks that appear to be aimed at discouraging them from following their spiritual teacher into exile. The TIN also reported that no new monks are being permitted to enter the monastery. In December 2000, foreign officials were allowed to visit the Tsurphu Monastery, where approximately 325 monks were said to be in residence. There were few other visitors at the time; however, religious activity was observed.
There were reports that a few practitioners of Falun Gong have been detained in Tibet since Falun Gong was banned in July 1999. The official press reported that steps were also taken to stop the practice of Zhong Gong among PLA troops stationed in the TAR.
Forced Religious Conversion There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism. Although the Christian population in Tibet is extremely small, there is societal pressure aimed at converts, some of whom reportedly have been disinherited by their families.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the U.S.
Consulate General in Chengdu made a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibet. In regular exchanges with the Government, including with religious affairs officials, U.S. diplomatic personnel consistently urged both central government and local authorities to respect religious freedom in Tibet. Embassy officials protested and sought further information on cases whenever there were credible reports of religious persecution or discrimination. U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed in the country also regularly applied for permission to travel to Tibet to monitor conditions, including the status of religious freedom; however, the authorities were increasingly unwilling to allow such travel during the period covered by this report. U.S. officials maintain contacts with a wide spectrum of religious figures, and the U.S. Department of State's nongovernmental contacts include experts on religion in Tibet and religious groups in the United States. The U.S. Embassy, including the Ambassador and other senior officers, raised the cases of religious prisoners and reports of religious persecution with government officials. Senior embassy officials met regularly with the head of the Religious Affairs Bureau and raised cases during those discussions; including those of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the llth Panchen Lama, Abbot Chadrel Rinpoche, Ngawang Sangdrol, and other Tibetan monks and nuns. Other embassy officers raised specific cases in meetings with officials from the State Council's Religious Affairs Bureau and the Party's United Front Work Department.
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