Tibet * | Freedom House

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Tibet *

Tibet *

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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China continued its tight control over Tibet in 2001, jailing dissidents, managing daily life in Buddhist monasteries, and pressuring monks and nuns to renounce their allegiance to the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan national history dates back more than 2,000 years. Beijing's modern-day claim to the region is based solely on Mongolian and Manchurian 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, Beijing incorporated roughly half of Tibet into four southwestern Chinese provinces beginning in 1950. As a result, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which Beijing created in 1965, covers only half the territory of pre-invasion Tibet.

In what is perhaps the defining event of Beijing's occupation, 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 in 1960 called the Chinese occupation genocidal 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 jailed 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.

China has in recent years attempted to control religious affairs and undermine the exiled Dalai Lama's authority. Foreign observers have reported a slight easing of repression since late 2000, when Beijing named as the region's Communist Party secretary the relatively moderate Guo Jinlong. He replaced Chen Kuiyan, the architect of recent crackdowns. The 53-year old Guo, who served on several party committees in Sichuan Province and the TAR, pledged to continue Chen's policies.

One reason for the change in Tibet's top political post may have been Beijing's anger over the escape to India in late 1999 of the teenager recognized by the Dalai Lama, and accepted by Beijing, as the seventeenth Karmapa. The Karmapa is the highest- ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism's Karma Kargyu school. 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 in the Buddhist religious hierarchy 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. The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest religious figure. Authorities stage-managed the selection of another sixyear- old boy as the Panchen Lama. Since the Panchen Lama identifies the reincarnated Dalai Lama, Beijing potentially can control the identification of the fifteenth Dalai Lama.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Tibetans lack the right of self-determination, cannot change their government through elections, and enjoy few basic rights. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rules the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and neighboring areas that historically were part of Tibet through compliant government officials whose ranks include some Tibetans in largely ceremonial posts. While ethnic Tibetans have served as TAR governor, none has ever held the peak post of TAR party secretary. 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.

China's blanket repression denies Tibetans nearly all basic rights. Some of the worst abuses are against political dissidents. Security forces routinely and arbitrarily arrest, imprison, and torture dissidents to punish nonviolent protest, according to the U.S. State Department, the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN), and other sources. The offenses include displaying Tibetan flags or other symbols of cultural identity, holding peaceful demonstrations, possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama, forming prisoner lists, putting up posters, and distributing leaflets.

The CCP controls the judiciary, which routinely hands down lengthy prison terms to Tibetans convicted of political offenses. The number of Tibetan political prisoners fell to 266 in January 2001 from 538 in January 2000, TIN said in February. The reason for the decrease is not clear. At least 37 Tibetan political prisoners, or about 1 in 50, have died since 1987 as a result of prison abuse, the rights group said. The average sentence being served by political prisoners is just over eight and a half years, with monks and nuns making up 74 percent of these inmates, TIN added. In addition to using the judiciary to stifle dissent, authorities also frequently use administrative regulations to detain political prisoners for up to four years without charge or trial.

Throughout Tibet, security forces routinely beat, torture, or otherwise abuse detainees and inmates in prisons, detention centers, and other places of incarceration, according to the U.S. State Department, TIN, and other sources. 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 tortures 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. In addition, authorities frequently force detainees and prisoners to work on demanding agricultural and lumbering projects, often for no pay, according to the U.S. State Department's February 2001 report on human rights in Tibet in 2000.

While authorities permit some religious practices, they have since 1996 strengthened their control over Tibetan monasteries 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, the U.S. State Department report said. The teams seek to coerce monks and nuns into opposing Tibetan independence, recognizing the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama as the true Panchen Lama, and denouncing the Dalai Lama. The intensity of the campaign varies from year to year and by region, but throughout Tibet authorities have in recent years arrested dozens of monks and nuns for refusing to renounce their beliefs and have expelled hundreds more from their religious institutions, according to the U.S. State Department report and the New York-based Human Rights Watch. As part of the campaign, Beijing in 1996 banned from monasteries all photographs of the Dalai Lama. Evidence from 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 beliefs through the patriotic education campaign, the government continues to oversee day-to-day affairs in major monasteries and nunneries. Authorities control daily affairs through state-organized "democratic management committees" that run each establishment. The government also strictly limits the numbers of monks and nuns permitted in major monasteries, although these restrictions are not always enforced, and it 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 limited 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 religious practice among Tibetan members of the CCP and Tibetan government workers. Reporting on what appeared to be fresh efforts to enforce these restrictions, TIN said in August 2000 that authorities had recently ordered party cadres and government workers to withdraw their children from monasteries and nunneries in Lhasa. Officials also warned them that if they took part in religious practices, they could be fined and their children expelled from their schools. TIN also reported that authorities had begun searching the homes of party members in Lhasa and some outlying areas for religious shrines and pictures of the Dalai Lama. Since 1994, authorities have banned the sale of the Dalai Lama's photograph and displays of his photograph in state offices.

Authorities also imposed several other restrictions on lay religious activity in 2000 that targeted not only party cadres and government workers but also students and pensioners. 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, according to TIN. Authorities also warned Lhasa students in July that they could be thrown out of their schools if they visited monasteries or 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. Tibetans, however, need to learn Mandarin Chinese in order to take advantage of these preferences. Many Tibetans want to learn Chinese in order to compete for educational slots and jobs but at the same time fear that an increased use of Chinese threatens the survival of the Tibetan language. Already the language of instruction in middle schools, Chinese is reportedly being used to teach several subjects in a number of Lhasa primary schools, TIN said in November. In the private sector, employers routinely give Han Chinese preference in hiring and greater pay for the same work, according to the U.S. State Department's February 2001 report. Tibetans also find it more difficult than do Han Chinese to get permits and loans to open businesses, the report added. 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. Authorities permit urban Tibetans to have two children, while farmers and herders often have three or more children. Officials, however, frequently enforce the nationwide one-child rule in Tibet for government workers and CCP members and in some cases reportedly use threats of fines to coerce women into undergoing abortions and sterilizations, the U.S. State Department report said. Authorities, moreover, are reportedly applying a two-child limit to farmers and nomads in several counties, TIN said in 2000.

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 sign of Beijing's tight grip on the region, Chinese authorities control all print and broadcast media in Tibet, except for about 20 or so clandestine publications that appear sporadically, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres said in 2000.

Beijing's development policies in Tibet have encouraged and facilitated the resettlement of Han Chinese into traditional Tibetan areas. This has altered the region's demographic composition, displaced Tibetan businesses, reduced employment opportunities for Tibetans, and further marginalized Tibetan cultural identity. Possibly because of these rapid social and economic changes and dislocations, prostitution is a "growing problem" in Tibet, particularly in Lhasa, the U.S. State Department report said.

Thanks in part to heavy subsidies from Beijing and favorable economic and tax policies, Tibet's economy has grown by more than ten percent, on average, each year over the past decade, according to the U.S. State Department's 2001 report. The report added, however, that while Beijing's development policies have raised the living standards of many ethnic Tibetans, Han Chinese have been the main beneficiaries of many of the benefits of development and the growing private sector. This is seen most starkly in parts of Lhasa, where Han Chinese run almost all small businesses.