I wrote the following for the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog and am reproducing it here. Some may think we know the answer to the question that is the headline but I would suggest that we think deeper.
Why Doesn’t the China-Appointed Panchen Lama Speak Out?
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Today is the 22nd birthday of the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who has continued to remain under virtual detention somewhere in China since 1995. He disappeared when he was a six year old child and if and when he is released he will be a man denied of his normal childhood upbringing.
As a way of recalling the role of this institution in modern Tibetan history, I read some of the published public talks given by the previous Panchen Lama this morning. As is well known he was vocal and openly critical of both Tibetans as well as the Chinese government on matters of preservation of Tibetan religious and cultural identity. He may have voiced the Chinese official rhetoric but he has also shown that being a “good citizen” of the People’s Republic of China does not mean one should deny one’s Tibetan heritage or be denied of the same by the Chinese authorities.
I also thought of the other 22 year old individual who is part of this matrix. He is of course Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese Government appointed Panchen Lama. In 2010 his position was formally politicized by the Chinese authorities when they appointed him to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Continuous efforts are being made by various organs of the Chinese Government to project Gyaltsen Norbu as the face of the contented Tibetans in today’s China. But as I wrote on March 4, 2010, “Truth be told, as of now he does not enjoy the confidence nor the reverence of the Tibetan people (the Chinese government knows this and so is constantly trying to find ways to impress the Tibetan people, including highlighting his tri-lingual capabilities) no matter how many photos and videos that the authorities may show of Tibetan people revering him. Spiritual faith comes from the heart and not through arranged photo ops. Therefore, the jury is out on which direction he is heading. This is also a challenge to Beijing.”
As I re-read this piece, I had this thought: if Gyaltsen Norbu is a Tibetan Buddhist leader and has been provided with the necessary spiritual upbringing for the past nearly two decades or so, instead of mouthing political rhetoric, why is he not addressing the issue of Tibetan religion, culture and way of life, as the previous Panchen Lama used to do? In fact, leaving aside Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s spiritual identity, why is Gyaltsen Norbu not reprimanding the authorities for denying an innocent Tibetan Buddhist a normal upbringing? I am quite sure that the 10th Panchen Lama would have done it.
The International Campaign for Tibet’s press statement today has rightly pointed out that the “enforced disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, is a continuous crime being committed by the People’s Republic of China” as defined in the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and that this “is a continuous crime until the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person becomes known.” This is a challenge that China will continue to face.
But this is also a challenge to Gyaltsen Norbu, too. The fundamental reason why a Tibetan Buddhist leader chooses to be reborn is to work for his spiritual community and to further the work of the previous incarnation. Is Gyaltsen Norbu able to live up to the expectation of the institution to which he has been thrust by the Chinese political system?
The news is out that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is bestowing the sacred Kalachakra Initiations in the holy town of Bodh Gaya, India, from December 31, 2011. It brought back memories of the Kalachakra there in 1985 that I was fortunate to be present.
First, the schedule of His Holiness on the website of the Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama says the following.
“Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India from December 31 to January 10: During the first three days of the Kalachakra, from December 31, 2011 to January 2, 2012, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, along with the monks of Namgyal Monastery and senior lamas, will conduct rituals which prepare and consecrate the venue. These include chanting of prayers, creation of the sand mandala and other rituals. From January 3 to 5, His Holiness will give preliminary teachings on Kamalashila’s The Middling States of Meditation (gomrim barpa), Gyalsey Thokme Sangpo’s 37 Practices of A Boddhisattva (laklen sodunma), Geshe Langri Thangpa’s Eight verses of Training the Mind (lojong tsik gyema) & Nagarjuna’s The Praise to the World Transcendent (jigten ley deypar toepa). On January 6, the Kalachakra Ritual Dance will be performed by the monks of Namgyal Monastery. His Holiness will confer the Kalachakra Initiation from January 7 to 9. On January 10, a long life empowerment (tsewang) and a ceremony offering prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be performed. “
His Holiness is already scheduled to bestow the Kalachakra in Washington, D.C. in July 2011 and so it is virtually two Kalachakra initiations within a spate of 12 months. The Washington, D.C. Kalachakra will have a flavor of its own and the spiritual impact of the teaching will be a positive one.
Any teaching in Bodh Gaya has a special value and more so with a Kalachakra by the Dalai Lama. Devotees will throng from all over the Himalaya region as well as the world shedding a colorful light on the nature of the congregation. I still remember the Kalachakra that His Holiness bestowed in Bodh Gaya in 1985. Among the more than 200,000 devotees then there were Tibetans, Bhutanese, Ladakhis, Monpas, Kinnauris, Sikkimese and others in all their traditional garments. It was really a “hustle and bustle” place then, as one would say.
Infrastructure was rudimentary. Tents were set up all over the coarse agricultural ground that were matted with straw to accommodate the devotees. Many people cooked in these tents on their kerosene stoves. It is a miracle that no fire disaster took place.
Water supply was from the common public taps. There was dust all over the place and that was the first time I encountered “painters’ mask” that many of the Western devotees were wearing.
The sacred Mahabodhi stupa was in its natural state then and there was no physical barrier nor restriction on devotees offering butter lamps or candles right in front of the entrance and around it. As we went for our koras we could see the walls of the stupas stained with smoke.
At night there were dancing of the traditional Tibetan kind in the different “camps” that were set up. These were also the occasion for the young and the restless to go on their adventures.
Today, some things have changed. There are a lot more hotels in town. Internet is a new development that will provide us with instant gratification for our thirst for information. Many people will be receiving the teachings virtually through their computers. The Mahabodhi stupa is better protected with stricter rules, according to people who have been to Bodh Gaya in recent times.
If you notice, I have said in the beginning of this posting that I was “present” during the 1985 Kalachakra. While I have been blessed to be at such spiritual events it was more in the nature of my work. I cannot therefore claim to have received the teachings. But then, I rejoice in our belief that we get “jinlap” merely being present at such sacred events.
2010 Human Rights Report: China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau
The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Tibetan population within the TAR was approximately 2.7 million and outside the TAR was an estimated 2.9 million. The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses.
There was severe repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement. The intensified controls applied following the March 2008 riots and unrest in Tibetan areas eased somewhat after the second anniversary of the unrest and its suppression. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detention, and house arrest. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage remained a concern.
The fallout from the March 2008 protests continued to affect the human rights situation in Tibetan regions of the PRC. A number of Tibetans, especially monks, remained incarcerated for their role in the 2008 protests and riots. People’s Armed Police (PAP) presence remained at historically high levels in many communities across the Tibetan Plateau. In March all major monasteries in Lhasa were guarded by security forces. On March 14, many shops in the city closed to mark the anniversary of the demonstrations and the police crackdown. Students in many areas protested; in southern Gansu Province, students reportedly protested for freedom, human rights, and in support of the Dalai Lama.
Deprivation of Life
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, it was not possible to verify independently these reports. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for the killings.
In August police shot and killed a Tibetan during a mining protest in Phayul County in Ganzi (Kardze) Prefecture. State media claimed the Tibetan was shot accidentally when police fired warning shots at protesters.
In December 2009 33-year-old Tibetan nun Yangkyi Dolma died of unknown causes in a Chengdu hospital after eight months in police custody. She was severely beaten by police and arrested in March 2009 after she joined a protest in Ganzi County, Ganzi Prefecture, Sichuan Province calling for human rights and the swift return of the Dalai Lama.
No further information was available regarding the January 2009 death of Pema Tsepag following his beating by authorities; the March 2009 killing of Phuntsok Rabten by public security agents; the March 2009 killing of Panchou Lede in a clash between soldiers and farmers; and the August 2009 death of Kalden following his torture in a Lhasa prison.
Following the outbreak of protests in March 2008, the government reported that 22 persons were killed in the Lhasa violence, including 18 civilians, one police officer, and three rioters. However, outside observers, including Tibetan exile groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), variously placed the number of persons killed in Tibetan areas due to official suppression that began March 10 at between 100 and 218.
There were reports of persons tried, found guilty, and executed for their activities during the 2008 protests. Trials and executions were not transparent, and requests by foreign observers to attend trials were denied. There was not enough information available to determine whether they were afforded due process.
Following the 2008 riots in Lhasa, authorities arbitrarily detained Tibetans, including monks and nuns, many of whom remained missing. Official statistics for the number detained were incomplete and covered only limited areas. In February 2009 official media reported that 953 persons were detained or had surrendered to police in Lhasa following the riots. The report stated that 76 persons were sentenced to prison in connection with the unrest, and an additional 116 were awaiting trial. Official sources have not reported the fates of these 116 persons. On December 21, an NGO reported that Jampel Wangchuk, 55, the disciplinarian at Drepung’s Loseling College, had been sentenced to life in prison; Konchok Nyima, 43, the scripture teacher at Drepung’s Gomang College, had been sentenced to 20 years; and 38-year-old Ngawang Choenyi, the scripture teacher at Drepung’s Ngakpa College, was believed to be serving a sentence of 15 years.
There was no information on the whereabouts of five monks, including Sonam Rabgyal, Damdul, and Rabgyal, who disappeared following a 2008 midnight raid on the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa. The whereabouts of Paljor Norbu, a Tibetan traditional painter sentenced to seven years in prison after a secret trial in 2008, remained unknown at year’s end. No new information was available on the whereabouts of Phuntsok Gyaltsen, the deputy head of Phurbu Township, Palgon County, who was detained in 2007.
The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama, and his family remained unknown. In October 2009 government officials in Tibet told a visiting foreign delegation that Gendun Choekyi Nyima was “growing up very well, loves Chinese culture and is enjoying his life.” The officials asserted that his identification as the 11th Panchen Lama was “illegal.”
Torture and Other Cruel and Degrading Treatment
The security regime employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. Tibetans repatriated from Nepal reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and were forced to perform heavy physical labor. Prisoners were subjected routinely to “political investigation” sessions and were punished if deemed insufficiently loyal to the state.
In March 2009 police severely beat 21-year-old Tibetan nun Lobsang Khandro from the Gema Dra-wok Nunnery for carrying out an individual protest in Ganzi Prefecture. She allegedly carried pamphlets and prayer flags and shouted calls for freedom and support for the Dalai Lama as she walked to the Ganzi Prefecture government headquarters.
On June 22, well-known businessman and environmentalist Karma Samdrup, on trial for alleged grave robbing and theft of cultural artifacts, accused his jailers of beatings, sleep deprivation, administration of drugs that made his ears bleed, and other mistreatment. On June 24, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Late in the year four monks from Lutsang Monastery were released from confinement in Qinghai Province. The four were arrested and sentenced to reeducation through labor (RTL) following a February 2009 protest by Lutsang monks outside a government office.
In May 2009 according to an NGO report, police injured six persons in Tawu County of Ganzi Prefecture while breaking up a protest against a hydroelectric project.
According to numerous sources, many of those detained after the rioting in 2008 were subjected to extrajudicial punishments such as severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods. In some cases detainees suffered broken bones and other serious injuries at the hands of PAP and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. According to eyewitnesses, the bodies of persons killed during the unrest or subsequent interrogation were disposed of secretly rather than returned to their families.
Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, head of Pangri and Yatseg nunneries in Ganzi, told of police abuse during his April 2009 trial. He claimed that after his arrest in 2008, police handcuffed him with arms outstretched to an iron pillar and forced him to stand while they interrogated him continuously for four days and four nights. They told Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche that if he did not confess his wife and son would be detained. His trial was later postponed indefinitely. Foreign diplomats asked to observe the trial but received no reply. In late December 2009 a court sentenced Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche to eight-and-a-half years in prison for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition (see Denial of Fair Public Trial section).
In May 2009 Tibetan monk Jigme Guri from Labrang Monastery was released from prison. He alleged that prison authorities beat him repeatedly during two months of detention beginning in 2008. According to Jigme, the beatings left him unconscious for six days, and he required two hospitalizations.
In December 2009 the deputy director of the TAR Justice Bureau told a foreign diplomat that there were 3,000 prisoners in the five TAR prisons, which are separate from the RTL system.
The mass detentions connected with the March 2008 unrest amplified already crowded and harsh prison conditions. Some prisons, including those in the RTL system, used forced labor to which prisoners may be assigned for three years (with the possibility of a one-year extension) without court review. The law states that prisoners may be required to work up to 12 hours per day, with one rest day every two weeks, but sometimes these regulations were not enforced; conditions varied from prison to prison.
According to numerous sources, political prisoners in Tibetan areas endured unsanitary conditions and often had little opportunity to wash or bathe. Many prisoners slept on the floor without blankets and sheets. Prisoners reported being confined side by side with 20 to 30 cellmates for many days.
Former detainees reported that prisoners were not provided with enough food. According to sources, prisoners rarely received medical care unless they had a serious illness. Prisoners also complained that they often failed to receive money, food, clothing, and books sent by their families because such items were routinely confiscated by prison guards.
Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
During the year arbitrary arrest and detention continued in Tibetan areas. With a detention warrant, police legally may detain persons for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Police must notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of the detention. Following the 37-day period, police must either formally arrest or release the detainees. In practice police frequently violated these requirements.
Official state media reported the detentions of 4,434 persons in Tibetan areas (1,315 in Lhasa) between March and April 2008. In 2008 official media reported that approximately 1,317 persons were arrested in the March-April time frame, 1,115 of whom were released afterwards. Overseas organizations placed the total number detained at more than 5,600.
Many prisoners were subject to the RTL system or other forms of detention not subject to judicial review.
Denial of Fair Public Trial
Legal safeguards for Tibetans detained or imprisoned were inadequate in both design and implementation. According to a TAR Bureau of Justice official, all seven cities and prefectures had established legal assistance centers that offered services in the Tibetan language. Prisoners may request a meeting with a government-appointed attorney, but in practice many defendants did not have access to legal representation.
According to the Tibet Daily, the TAR was strengthening the Communist Party’s leadership over lawyers in the region in order to ensure that the work of lawyers “goes in the correct direction.” Of the 18 law firms in the TAR, 11 had their own Communist Party committee and six shared a Communist Party committee with the Justice Bureau in their prefecture. A party development leader was assigned to the law firm that had no party organization.
Ethnic Han lawyers who volunteered to represent detainees involved in the 2008 protests received warnings from authorities not to take on such cases. Authorities threatened some with punishment or placed them under police surveillance. In cases that authorities claimed involve state security, trials often were cursory and closed. Authorities denied multiple requests from foreign diplomats to observe the trials of those charged with crimes related to the 2008 unrest. By law maximum prison sentences for crimes such as “endangering state security” and “splitting the country” are 15 years for each count, not to exceed 20 years in total. Authorities sentenced Tibetans for alleged support of Tibetan independence regardless of whether their activities involved violence.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Due to the lack of independent access to prisoners and prisons, it was impossible to ascertain the number of Tibetan political prisoners. A number of the Tibetans arrested or detained in the days and weeks following the spring 2008 protests were sentenced throughout 2010. Many prisoners were held in the extrajudicial RTL prisons operated by the Ministry of Public Security and never appeared in public court.
Based on information available from the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China’s political prisoner database, as of September 3, there were 824 Tibetan political prisoners imprisoned in Tibetan areas. Of these, 765 were Tibetans detained on or after March 10, 2008, and 59 were Tibetans detained prior to March 10, 2008. Of the 765 Tibetan political prisoners who were detained on or after March 10, 2008, 443 (approximately 58 percent) were Tibetan Buddhist “religious professionals” (monks, nuns, and trulkus, or high-ranking reincarnated lamas). Sentencing information was available for 152 of the 824 Tibetans. Of the 152 Tibetan political prisoners for whom sentencing information is available, 116 were detained on or after March 10, 2008. According to an NGO report, as of December 30, there were 831 known political prisoners in Tibet, of whom 360 were known to have been convicted by courts; 12 Tibetans were serving life sentences. The actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees was believed to be much higher. An unknown number of prisoners continued to be held under the RTL system.
In January authorities sentenced singer Tashi Dhondrup to 15 months’ hard labor for writing, recording, and distributing songs with lyrics such as: “The occupation and denial of freedom of Tibetans/This is torture without trace.”
On April 6, at Northwest Nationalities University in Lanzhou, authorities detained Tashi Rabten, editor of the banned literary magazine Eastern Snow Mountain, which discussed the 2008 protests.
On April 23, authorities detained the Tibetan writer Tagyal (pen name Shogdung) in Xining. Shogdung is the author of the banned book Opening of Earth and Sky, which severely criticized PRC government policies in Tibetan areas and praised the 2008 protests against the government. Authorities considered the book subversive for its criticism of the PRC government: On October 14, Tagyal was released on bail, and at year’s end was awaiting trial.
On May 20, authorities arrested writer Doku Tsultrim apparently because of material he was preparing to publish on Tibetan youth after the April 14 Yushu earthquake.
On May 25, the Lhasa Intermediate Court sentenced Sonam Tsering to death with two years reprieve to consider his post-sentencing behavior for inciting and participating in the Lhasa riot; five others were sentenced to between three and seven years in prison.
On June 26, authorities sentenced businessman Dorje Tashi, owner of the Yak Hotel in Lhasa, to life in prison. Although the authorities kept the charges against him secret, they reportedly involved helping exile groups.
In February 2009 authorities handed down sentences of 18 months to three years in prison to six Tibetans in Ganzi Prefecture for participating in protests.
In May 2009 according to an NGO report, authorities sentenced Tsultrim Gyatso, a monk of Labrang Monastery in southern Gansu Province, to life imprisonment for “endangering state security.”
According to the Agence France Presse, early in 2009 authorities handed down sentences ranging from three years to life in prison to a total of 76 persons involved in the March 2008 riots.
An NGO reported that in July 2009 the Lithang County, Ganzi Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Tibetan monk Jamyang Tenzin of Yonru Geyden Rabgayling Monastery, Lithang County, to three years’ imprisonment for opposing a work team sent to conduct a “patriotic education campaign” at his monastery.
In August 2009 an NGO reported that eight Tibetans in Machen County were sentenced to one to seven years in prison following protests related to the suicide of Tashi Sangpo, which was reportedly triggered by his inhumane treatment at the hands of the police.
In December 2009 authorities sentenced filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen to six years in prison for “splittism” for his film Leaving Fear Behind, which documented the lives of Tibetans in China and their views on the Dalai Lama.
In 2009 in Barkham County, Aba (Ngaba) Prefecture, four students were imprisoned for working on a student newspaper at their Tibetan high school. One of the students was sent to an RTL camp in Mianyang. Charges were not brought against the other three. Three teachers at the high school were fired in connection with this case.
Wangdu (Wangdui), a former employee of an HIV/AIDS prevention project run by a foreign NGO, who in 2008 was sentenced to life imprisonment for engaging in “espionage” on behalf of the “Dalai clique,” remained in prison. Migmar Dhondup, another former employee of a foreign NGO, also remained in prison on the same charge.
Prominent Buddhist figure Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was serving a life sentence in a Sichuan prison on separatism, firearms, and explosives charges. According to Tibetan sources, the firearms were left at his temple by a group who had renounced hunting.
Dozens of monks and nuns who resisted “patriotic education” campaigns before the 2008 protests continued serving prison terms.
According to an NGO, the PSB arrested Kunga Tsangyang, a monk from the Labrang Monastery, during a late-night raid in March 2009. The reported arrest was part of a continuing sweep of Tibetan Internet writers that began after the 2008 unrest. In November 2009 he was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets in a closed-door trial by the Gannan Intermediate People’s Court in Gansu Province.
In December 2009 Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, a senior religious leader who allegedly had been tortured to extract a false confession, was sentenced to seven years for misappropriation of public assets and one-and-a-half years for illegal possession of ammunition after dozens of nuns at a nunnery he headed staged a peaceful protest in May 2008. Prosecutors maintained that a pistol and ammunition were found during a police raid, but Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche maintained that he had been framed. The monk’s lawyer stated he had given a false confession after police deprived him of sleep for four days (see Torture section).
Late in 2008 the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Dorje Kangzhu, a 34-year-old nun, to seven years in prison for “inciting secession.” She was arrested for distributing Tibetan independence leaflets and shouting pro-Tibet slogans in 2008.
The following political prisoners remained incarcerated: Rongye Adrak, Adak Lupoe, Lama Jigme Tenzin (Jinmei Danzeng) aka Bangri Chogtrul, Jarib Lothog, monk Lodroe, Khenpo Jinpa, art teacher and musician Kunkhyen, Buchung; Penpa, Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche, monk Choeying Khedrub (Quyin Kezhu), Dawa (also called Gyaltsen Namdak), monk Lobsang Palden, teacher Dolma Kyab, Sherab Yonten, Sonam Gyelpo, retired physician Yeshe Choedron (Yixi Quzhen), monk Tenzin Bucheng (Danzeng Puqiong), monk Lobsang Ngodrub, and monk Tsering Dhondup.
Freedom of Speech and Press
Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to relay information to foreigners outside the country, or passed information regarding the 2008 protests were subject to harassment or detention. During 2009, 59 individuals were convicted for “creating and spreading rumors” after the 2008 unrest.
The government severely restricted travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. In the TAR, foreign journalists can gain access to the region only by participating in highly structured government organized tours, where the constant presence of government minders makes independent reporting difficult. Outside the TAR, foreign journalists frequently were expelled from Tibetan areas despite government rules, adopted in 2008, stating that foreign journalists do not need the permission of local authorities to conduct reporting. In June the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) called on China to apply its own reporting regulations and open the TAR to foreign journalists. An FCCC survey found that 86 percent of respondents said that it was not possible to report accurately and comprehensively about Tibet. Respondents submitted 35 applications for travel to the TAR over the past two years; only four were approved. Some foreign media were able to report from Yushu immediately after the earthquake without serious government interference.
In March 2009 the FCCC urged the government to halt detentions of journalists and open Tibetan areas for news coverage. Reporters from at least six different news organizations were detained or had their property confiscated when they attempted to visit Tibetan areas of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces ahead of the first anniversary of social unrest in Tibet.
Tibetans noted that the authorities had ordered that coverage of the Yushu relief efforts should focus on the army’s efforts and should downplay the work of Tibetan monks.
On April 6, two Tibetan writers, Tashi Rabten and Druklo, were taken into custody by police during a raid at their hostel at the Northwest University for Nationalities in Lanzhou, Gansu Province. Tashi Rabten was one of four Tibetan writers whose arrest the NGO Reporters Without Borders reported in August 2009. The other three were Zhuori Cicheng, the monk Gang Ni, and Kang Gongque. Kang Gongque was sentenced to two years in a Sichuan Province prison.
On December 30, the Aba Intermediate Court found three Tibetan writers, Jangtse Dhonko, Bhudha and Kalsang Jinpa, guilty of splittism. Jangtse and Bhuda were each sentenced to four year’ imprisonment; Kalsang Jinpa was given a three-year sentence.
The government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America’s (VOA) and Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Tibetan- and Chinese-language services and the foreign-based Voice of Tibet. Some Tibetans reported that at times they were able to receive such radio broadcasts despite frequent jamming. One monk in Sichuan observed that he might be able to hear VOA/RFA broadcasts “if he bought a better radio”; however, “if he were caught with a better radio he would be punished.” In Tibetan areas of southern Gansu Province and the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province police confiscated or destroyed satellite dishes suspected of receiving VOA Tibetan-language television as well as VOA and RFA audio satellite channels. The dishes have been replaced with government-controlled cable television systems. Some Tibetans were able to listen to overseas Tibetan-language radio and television on the Internet.
Domestic journalists did not report on repression in Tibetan areas; bloggers who did so faced punishment.
In August the Internet magazine Tibetan Review reported that Internet cafes across Tibet had been ordered to finish installing a “state-of-the-art” surveillance system by the end of the month. The system would not only restrict content that could be viewed but would also monitor users’ Internet activities. Identity cards belonging to the person using the Internet must be swiped to allow online access, and viewed content could then be traced back to that identity. The order reportedly has been implemented.
During major religious, cultural, and political festivals in Tibetan areas, many Web sites were shut down and Internet cafes were closely monitored.
The Internet blog of well-known Tibetan poet and journalist, Tsering Woeser, remained inaccessible to Internet users inside China due to official Internet filtering. Authorities continued to refuse to issue Woeser a passport. Most foreign Tibet-related Web sites critical of official policy in Tibetan areas were blocked to users in China throughout the year.
Official censorship greatly hampered the development of Tibetan-language Internet sites. Although the government funded projects designed to improve Tibetan-language computer interfaces, security agencies responsible for monitoring the Internet often lacked the language skills necessary to monitor Tibetan content. As a result, Tibetan-language blogs and Web sites were subject to indiscriminate censorship, with entire sites closed down even when the content did not appear to touch on sensitive topics.
In March authorities cut off both Internet and cell phone text messaging in various parts of Ganzi and Aba prefectures in Sichuan Province and in the TAR. In June when the two sons of the leader of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism made a short visit to the Sakya Monastery in the TAR, cell phone connections and the Internet in Sakya County were completely shut down.
In February 2009 police in Machu County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, arrested Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang, owner of the Tibetan cultural and literary Web site The Lamp, which was taken off the Internet for several months. In November 2009 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets.
In 2009 according to an NGO, Gonpo Tserang was sentenced in Dechen, TAR, to three years in prison for “inciting separatism” by sending e-mail and text messages about the March 2008 protests. The verdict from the trial stated that “Gonpo Tserang used the Internet to deliberately fabricate rumors, distorting the true situation to incite separatism.”
Tibet activists inside and outside of China have been harassed by well-organized computer-hacking attacks originating from within China according to a foreign-based study group.
Cell phone and Internet service in the TAR and the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces were curtailed at times during the March period of sensitive anniversaries and the new “Serf Liberation Day” (see Academic Freedom and Protection of Cultural Heritage).
Academic Freedom and Protection of Cultural Heritage
Authorities in Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend political education sessions in an effort to prevent separatist political and religious activities on campus. Ethnic Tibetan academics were frequently encouraged to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as by making public speeches supporting government policies or accepting interviews by official media. Academics who failed to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion. Academics in China who publicly criticized the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied permission to Tibetan academics to travel overseas for conferences and academic/cultural exchanges.
Planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the growing non-Tibetan population, the expanding tourism industry, the forced resettlement of nomads and farmers, the weakening of Tibetan-language education at the middle and high school levels, and the introduction of more modern cultural influences continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs and marginalized the local population.
In March the authorities in Lhasa launched another in a series of “Strike Hard” campaigns. According to official reports, in the early days of the campaign, they raided 4,115 rented accommodations; checked 60 crime-prone areas; carried out comprehensive checks on 7,347 nonpermanent residents of the city; raided more than 70 guest houses, Internet cafes, entertainment centers, and bars; and detained 435 persons. Although ostensibly an anticrime operation, police searched private homes, guest houses, hotels, bars, and Internet cafes for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other politically forbidden items. Police examined the cell phones of Lhasa residents to search for “reactionary music” from India and photographs of the Dalai Lama. Human rights groups believed the motive behind the “strike hard” campaign was to harass human rights activists and supporters of Tibetan independence.
On March 28, the TAR marked its second annual observance of “Serf Emancipation Day,” the day in 1959 that China’s rulers formally abolished the Dalai Lama’s regional government. During the official celebration, Tibetan officials denounced the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama and other observers expressed concern that development projects and other central government policies disproportionately benefited non-Tibetans and continued to promote a considerable influx of Han, Hui, and other ethnic groups into the TAR.
Residents lacked the right to play a role in protecting their cultural heritage, including their environment. In 2007 the TAR government revised the TAR Cultural Relics Protection Regulations, asserting ownership over religious relics and monasteries.
Tibetans protested against mining or other industrial activities that harm the environment. In September Radio Free Asia reported that Tibetan demonstrators in Driru County, TAR protested construction of a dam. In August police shot and killed 47-year-old protester Babo at a mine in a Tibetan area of Sichuan. Local Tibetans said that three Tibetans were shot in the incident. On May 25, police opened fire on Tibetans at a cement factory in Xiahe (Labrang) County in Gansu Province; 15 Tibetans sustained gunshot wounds or injuries from police beatings according to an exile source in contact with Tibetans in the area.
Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, although not all, public and commercial signs. In most cases, Chinese signage was in large characters, with Tibetan in small letters, sometimes misspelled, and often there was no Tibetan at all. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, very little signage in Tibetan could be found and in many instances, forms and documents for use by citizens or customers were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was widely spoken and was used for most official communications. The illiteracy rate among Tibetans was more than five times higher (47.6 percent) than the national average (9.1 percent), according to 2000 census data. In many rural and nomadic areas, children received only one to three years of Tibetan-language education before continuing their education in a Mandarin-language school. According to official figures, the illiteracy rate among youth and working-age adults fell from 30.9 percent in 2003 to 2.4 percent in 2008.
According to a 2006 report by the Xinhua News Agency, a looser definition of literacy was used for Tibetan speakers than for Mandarin speakers in rural Tibet. Tibetan-speaking peasants and nomads were considered literate by PRC government standards if they could read and write the 30 basic letters of the Tibetan alphabet and read and write simple notes. However, Tibetan writing commonly stacks letters on top of one another creating an additional 89 letters beyond the basic 30. Tibetans regard persons who only recognize the 30 letters as semiliterate. Mandarin-speaking nomads and herders were considered literate if they could recognize 1,500 Chinese characters.
The Primary/Middle School Tibetan-language Curriculum Committee of the Five Provinces (TAR, Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan) established a national Tibetan-language curriculum for primary and middle schools in Tibetan areas that was predominantly translated directly from a standard Chinese curriculum, offering Tibetan students very little insight into their own culture, history, and values. Few elementary schools in Tibetan areas used Tibetan as the primary language of instruction. In Kangding (Dartsedo), capital of Ganzi Prefecture, there were no elementary schools where Tibetan children could study in Tibetan. Tibetan students were required to study Mandarin, which generally was used to teach most subjects. In middle and high schools–even some officially designated as Tibetan schools–teachers nearly always used Tibetan only to teach classes in Tibetan language, literature, and culture, and taught all other classes in Mandarin. Of more than 15 middle and high schools in Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province, in only three was the curriculum taught primarily in Tibetan.
On October 19, a provincial government decision to replace Tibetan with Mandarin as the main medium of instruction in Tibetan schools in Qinghai Province set off protests by several thousand Tibetan students in Tongren (Rebkong), Huangnan (Malho) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai. The protesters held banners in both Mandarin and Tibetan calling for “Equality for Nationalities” and “Expand the Use of the Tibetan Language” and “Freedom for the Nationalities.”
As a practical matter, proficiency in Mandarin was essential to qualify for higher education. China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages. Lower-ranked universities established to serve ethnic minority students only offered Tibetan-language instruction in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. At the minority universities, Tibetans and other ethnic minority students typically achieved high proficiency in Mandarin, as it was the medium for much of the curriculum, such as computer and business courses.
Leading universities generally required English-language proficiency for matriculation. Most graduates of Tibetan schools, however, learned only Mandarin and Tibetan and were thus unable to attend the better universities. This resulted in a shortage of Tibetans trained in science and engineering and, consequently, a near-total reliance on imported technical specialists from outside Tibetan areas to work on development projects.
On April 3, Tibetan students of the Machu Tibetan Middle School protested the firing of the school’s headmaster Kyabchen Dedrol and two Tibetan assistants Do Re and Choekyong Tseten. Chinese authorities fired them following a student-led protest. In China, school authorities were held strictly accountable for the political activities of their students.
Freedom of Religion
For a complete discussion of religious freedom, please see the 2010 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.
Freedom of Movement
The law provides for the freedom to travel; however, in practice the government strictly regulated travel and freedom of movement of Tibetans.
Freedom of movement, particularly for monks and nuns, was limited severely within Lhasa and throughout the TAR, and in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces. It was less of a problem in Yunnan, where there were many fewer monasteries and nunneries than other Tibetan areas. The PAP and local PSBs set up multiple roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of monasteries. Tibetans traveling in religious attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints. Several Tibetan monks reported that it remained difficult to travel outside their home monasteries, with officials frequently denying permission for outside monks to stay temporarily at a particular monastery for religious education. After the Yushu earthquake, many monks from neighboring counties and provinces were forced to leave, although local Tibetans needed their help to conduct funeral ceremonies for the many earthquake victims.
Many Tibetans, particularly prominent religious figures, scholars, and dissidents, as well as those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports. It has been more difficult for Tibetans to obtain new or renew existing passports following the 2008 protests. In some cases, in order to obtain passports Tibetans had to promise not to travel to India. In other cases, Tibetan students with scholarships to foreign universities could not study abroad because authorities refused to issue them passports. Some Tibetans were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes to government officials.
Tibetans continued to encounter substantial difficulties and obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Ethnic Tibetan government and CCP cadres in the TAR and Ganzi Prefecture were not allowed to send their children to study abroad. In addition to passport restrictions, reinforcement of border posts made travel, such as pilgrimages via Nepal to India to see the Dalai Lama, more difficult.
The government restricted the movement of Tibetans during sensitive anniversaries and events, and increased controls over border areas at these times. There were reports of arbitrary detentions of persons, particularly monks and nuns, returning from India and Nepal. Detentions generally lasted for several months, although in most cases authorities did not bring formal charges against prisoners.
Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. The Tibetan Reception Center in Kathmandu received 874 new Tibetan arrivals. In 2009 there were 838 arrivals, in 2008 there were 596, and in 2007 there were 2,156.
The Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, Kyabje Trulshuk Rinpoche, and Gyalwa Menri Trizin–leaders of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism–remained in exile. The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, remained unknown.
Many non-Tibetan Chinese citizens worked in Tibetan regions. Buddhist monks, particularly Han, were allowed only temporary visits to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. Local religious affairs authorities often forbid Han or foreign Buddhists from staying in monasteries for long-term study.
The government also regulated foreign travel to the TAR. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors were required to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies.
Authorities halted nearly all foreign travel to Lhasa for several months following the 2008 demonstrations. Foreign tourists were again banned from the TAR in March 2009 during the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. After March the number of foreign tourists traveling to the TAR increased, but authorities enforced more tightly than before existing rules that foreign visitors must remain with tour groups.
Foreign nationals who were granted official permission to travel to Lhasa had their movements restricted within the city and surrounding areas. Officials continued to restrict severely the access of diplomats and journalists to Tibet. Foreign officials and reporters were able to travel to the region only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by the Tibet Foreign Affairs Office. Foreign diplomats must obtain permission from the TAR’s Foreign Affairs Office for each visit to the TAR; permission was difficult to obtain. During the year three-quarters of the U.S. requests for official travel to the TAR were denied. In September authorities approved a visit to Lhasa by the U.S. Ambassador.
Official visits to the TAR were supervised closely, and delegation members were afforded very few opportunities to meet local residents not previously approved by the authorities. For those diplomatic trips that were approved, the TAR Foreign Affairs Office required some high-level delegations to stay at the government-affiliated Lhasa Hotel, in the western, predominantly ethnic Han portion of Lhasa, rather than hotels in the Tibetan quarter.
With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international observers to visit Tibetan areas.
Although TAR census figures showed that Tibetans made up 92 percent of the TAR’s permanently registered population, official figures did not include a large number of long-, medium-, and short-term Han residents, such as cadres, skilled workers, unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents. Chinese social scientists estimated the number of this floating population, including tourists and visitors on short-term business trips, for Lhasa alone was more than 200,000 (nearly half the population of Lhasa and more than 10 percent of the TAR’s population) during the May to November high season for tourism and migrant workers. According to a Lhasa city official, 260,000 of the 450,000 individuals living in downtown Lhasa during the year belonged to the floating population.
Migrants to the TAR overwhelmingly were concentrated in urban areas, where government economic policies disproportionately benefited ethnic Han Chinese. Small businesses, mostly restaurants and retail shops, run by ethnic Han and Hui migrants predominated in cities throughout Tibetan areas. Tibetans continued to make up nearly 98 percent of the rural population, according to official census figures.
The government continued its campaign to resettle Tibetan nomads into urban areas across the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Officials offered nomads monetary incentives to kill or sell their livestock and move to newly created Tibetan communities. However, there were reports of compulsory resettlement where promised compensation was either inadequate or not paid at all.
According to a December 2009, China News Net report, 230,000 households in the TAR, including 1.2 million farmers and herders, had been resettled into permanent housing–80 percent of the target population.
Improving housing conditions and education for Tibet’s poorest were among the goals of resettlement, yet a requirement that villagers build houses according to strict official specifications within two or three years often forced resettled families into debt to cover construction costs.
Although a state media report during the year noted that Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups made up 70 percent of government employees at the provincial level in the TAR, ethnic Han continued to hold the top CCP positions in nearly all counties and prefectures, including that of TAR party secretary. Within the TAR, ethnic Han continued to hold all the top security, military, financial, economic, legal, judicial and educational positions. Tibetans holding government and party positions were often prohibited from openly worshipping at monasteries or practicing their religion.
The economic and social exclusion of Tibetans was a major reason why such a varied cross section of Tibetans, including business operators, workers, students, university graduates, farmers, and nomads participated in the 2008 protests. Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment, and some job advertisements in the TAR noted that Tibetans need not apply. Some claimed that ethnic Han Chinese were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work. Some Tibetans reported that it was more difficult for ethnic Tibetans than Han to obtain permits and loans to open businesses. Continued discriminatory treatment of Tibetans’ applications for passports is another source of dissatisfaction. The use of Mandarin was widespread in urban areas, and many businesses limited employment opportunities for Tibetans who did not speak Mandarin. Restrictions on international NGOs that provide assistance to Tibetan communities resulted in the elimination of many NGO programs and the expulsion of many foreign NGO workers from the TAR.
The TAR tourism bureau continued its policy of refusing to hire Tibetan tour guides educated in India or Nepal. Government officials stated that all tour guides working in the TAR were required to seek employment with the Tourism Bureau and pass a licensing exam on tourism and political ideology. The government’s stated intent was to ensure that all tour guides provided visitors with the government’s position opposing Tibetan independence and the activities of the Dalai Lama. Some ethnic Tibetan tour guides in the TAR complained of unfair competition from government-sponsored “Help Tibet” tour guides brought in from outside the TAR and put to work after receiving a crash course on Tibet.
Women and Children
There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. However, women were underrepresented at the provincial and prefecture levels of government. According to an official Web site, female cadres in the TAR accounted for more than 30 percent of the TAR’s total cadres.
There was no information on the incidence of rape or domestic violence. In a Tibetan area of Sichuan Province, a resident said that sex-based violence, including rape, was common among Tibetan herders and often went unreported.
The TAR Health Bureau reported 102 cases of HIV/AIDS in the TAR between 1993 and 2009. Lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and economic pressures on women and girls engaged in prostitution led them to engage in unprotected sex. Diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, appeared to be nondiscriminatory.
Family-planning policies permitted Tibetans and members of other relatively small minority groups to have more children than ethnic Han. Some urban Tibetans who have permanent employment, as well as CCP members and government officials, and some ethnic Han living in Tibetan areas, generally were limited to two children. Rural Tibetans were encouraged, but not required, to limit births to three children.
According to official policy, primary education was compulsory, free, and universal. According to official TAR statistics, 96.5 percent of children between the ages of six and 13 attended school, and 90 percent of the TAR’s 520,000 primary school students completed lower middle school, for a total of nine years of education. In 2003 the UN special rapporteur on the right to education reported that official PRC education statistics did not accurately reflect attendance and were not independently verified.
The TAR is one of the few areas of the PRC that does not have a skewed sex ratio resulting from sex-selective abortion and inadequate health care for female infants.