Freedom in the World

Tibet *

Tibet *

Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores

Status

Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

7.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

7

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

7
Overview: 


In September 2005, China celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, in the months leading up to the anniversary celebration, officials in Lhasa were operating under heightened security, and former political prisoners were re-arrested in an effort to prevent "separatist" activity. Tensions between Tibetans and Han Chinese are expected to increase following completion of the Qinghai-Lhasa railroad in October 2005-the highest railroad ever constructed. The new rail line has raised concerns among Tibetans that the resulting increase in the number of Chinese traveling to Tibet will further jeopardize the region's distinct culture and future prospects for autonomy.

China's occupation of Tibet has marginalized a Tibetan national identity that dates back more than 1,600 years. Beijing's modern-day claim to the region is based on Mongolian and Manchurian imperial influence over Tibet in the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, respectively. Largely under this pretext, China invaded Central Tibet in 1950 and, in 1951, formally annexed Tibetan territory. In an effort to undermine Tibetan claims to statehood, Beijing split up the vast Tibetan traditional lands, incorporating roughly half of this eastern region into four different southwestern Chinese provinces. The central and western parts, the traditional homeland, which had been under the administration of the Dalai Lama's government at the time of the invasion, were named the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in 1965.

The defining event of Beijing's rule took place in 1959, when Chinese troops suppressed a major uprising in Lhasa, a culmination of widespread fighting in eastern areas over the previous three years. A reported 87,000 Tibetans were killed in the Lhasa area alone. The massacre forced the Tibetan spiritual and political leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to flee to India with some 80,000 supporters. During the next six years, China closed 97 percent of monasteries and defrocked more than 100,000 monks and nuns, and during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), nearly all of Tibet's 6,200 monasteries were destroyed.

Resistance to Beijing's rule continued, but Chinese soldiers forcibly broke up protests throughout Tibet. Reforms were introduced in 1980, with religious practice allowed again, under some restrictions, and tourism permitted in certain areas. Protests against the Chinese resumed in 1987, and there were some 200 incidents over the next six years, almost all of them peaceful. Four large-scale protests against Chinese rule took place in Lhasa. The largest protest in March 1989 led to the imposition of martial law on Lhasa and the surrounding areas for 13 months, following three days of antigovernment protests and riots. Officials lifted martial law in May 1990.

In addition to jailing dissidents, Chinese officials stepped up their efforts in the mid-1990s to control religious affairs and undermine the exiled Dalai Lama's religious and political authority. China in 1995 detained six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and rejected his selection by the Dalai Lama as the eleventh reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is the highest religious figure to have remained in Tibet after the mass exodus in 1959. Officials then orchestrated the selection of another six-year-old boy as the Panchen Lama. Since the Panchen Lama identifies the reincarnated Dalai Lama, Beijing potentially could control the identification of the fifteenth Dalai Lama. The government has also tried to control the identification and education of other religious figures.

China in recent years has made a series of goodwill gestures that may be aimed at influencing international opinion on Tibet. Beijing freed several Tibetan political prisoners shortly before the end of their sentences, though all had been jailed for nonviolent activities. China also hosted visits by envoys of the Dalai Lama in 2002, 2003, and again in 2004, the first formal contacts between Beijing and the Dalai Lama since 1993. Since 1988, the Tibetan government-in-exile has sought to negotiate genuine autonomy for Tibet, having dropped earlier demands for independence. China's official statements suggest that Beijing is willing to have contacts with the Dalai Lama, while suggesting that he cannot be trusted because of a secret desire for independence.

At the September 1, 2005, celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the TAR, the Chinese government praised the achievements of the past 40 years, citing economic development, social progress, cultural flourishing, ethnic unity, stability, and consolidated frontier defense. The ceremony, held outside the Potala Palace, was broadcast on national television and included speeches by high government officials including Jia Qingling, member of the Politburo Standing Committee, who said that "people's living standards have been constantly improving," while "Tibetan traditional culture has been protected, carried forward, and developed" over the past 40 years. Evidence shows, however, that authorities tightened political control over the region, jailing dissidents, restricting freedoms, and managing daily affairs in major Buddhist monasteries and nunneries.

On October 15, China completed the construction of the first railway line to Tibet, running from Qinghai Province to Lhasa. According to official Chinese sources, after the commencement of trial operations in July 2006, the railway will link Lhasa with five major Chinese cities-Beijing, Shanghai, Xining, Chengdu, and Guangzhou-making it much more affordable to travel to the TAR. Within five years, Beijing hopes to extend the railway from Lhasa to the urban centers of Shigatse and Nyingtri. The Chinese leadership has asserted that the railway will boost trade, create jobs, and raise the standard of living in the TAR. While many Tibetans have benefited to some extent from government infrastructural development, the fruits of modernization policies disproportionately benefit Chinese. Scholars predict the new railroad will increase Chinese migration to the TAR, heightening ethnic tensions.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Citizens of Tibet cannot change their government democratically. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rules the TAR and traditional Tibetan areas in nearby Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces through appointed officials whose leading ranks include few Tibetans. In a leadership shuffle in the spring of 2003, Jampa Phuntsog, formerly vice chairman of the TAR People's Congress, became chairman of the TAR regional government, a position he currently holds. Yang Chuantang, a Chinese, holds the position of TAR party secretary. He was hospitalized in September, and TAR government press confirmed that Jampa Phuntsog has assumed control of the "daily work." No Tibetan has ever held the peak post of TAR party secretary.

China controls the flow of information in Tibet, tightly restricting all media and regulating internet use. Tibetan-language programming by Voice of America, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Norway-based Voice of Tibet have suffered from the same frequency jamming as their Chinese-language counterparts. Increased availability of the internet in urban areas has provided Tibetans with more access to information. However, the Chinese government blocks websites providing news that is not "beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to economic development and conducive to social progress," according to Xinhua News Agency, and persons must show identity cards before using the internet in public facilities. An update to the 2000 restrictions on internet content was introduced in late September 2005 as a way of preventing the distribution of uncensored information through websites or e-mail, including all news related to "politics, economics, military affairs, foreign affairs and social and public affairs." This ban includes any information relating to Tibetan independence, the government-in-exile, and human rights abuses.

The CCP permits only certain Tibetans to take part in religious practice. All employees of government work units, however junior, and all students are forbidden religious practice or the possession of religious objects. Enforcement is variable. However, since 1996, the party has strengthened control over monasteries under a propaganda campaign intended to undermine the Dalai Lama's influence as a spiritual and political leader. The government announced the end of this "patriotic education campaign" in 2000, but government-run "work teams" continue to visit monasteries to conduct mandatory sessions on Beijing's version of Tibetan history, the "peaceful liberation of Tibet," and other political topics. Officials allow monks over the age of 18; they are required to sign a declaration rejecting Tibetan independence, expressing loyalty to the Chinese government, and denouncing the Dalai Lama.

The government manages the daily operations of monasteries through Democratic Management Committees (DMCs) and local government bureaus. As with other government positions, the party approves all committee members so that only "patriotic and devoted" monks and nuns may lead DMCs. Since 1995, lay people have also been appointed to these committees. According to the U.S. State Department's 2004 Human Rights Report, released in February 2005, Beijing has claimed that Buddhist monasteries are associated with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas. Spiritual leaders have encountered difficulty reestablishing historical monasteries because of a lack of funds, restrictions on monastic education, and denial of government permission to operate religious institutions.

In universities, professors cannot lecture on politically sensitive topics, and many must attend political indoctrination sessions. The government restricts course materials, prohibiting information that may reflect poorly on the CCP, to prevent cam-pus-based political and religious activity; it also bans some ancient and/or religious texts from classrooms.

Independent trade unions, civic groups, and human rights groups are illegal. Some development and health nongovernmental organizations from Western countries operate in Tibet, under highly restrictive agreements signed with the Chinese government and government institutions, but registration has become increasingly difficult for these organizations.

Tibet is governed by China's corrupt, party-dominated legal system. Like the rest of China, Tibet does not enjoy rule of law. In January 2005, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a senior lama sentenced to death in December 2002, had his suspended sentence commuted to life in prison after much pressure from the United States and other international organizations. In a trial and procedure that Human Rights Watch said "lacked any pretense of due process," he was found guilty in 2002 of causing explosions and inciting separatism. The evidence against Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was not made public on the grounds that politically sensitive "state secrets" were involved. His alleged co-conspirator, Lobsang Dondrup, was executed in January 2003.

Tibetan political dissidents face particularly severe human rights abuses. Security forces routinely engage in arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and execution without due process, punishing even nonviolent protest against Chinese rule. In July 2001, three Tibetans were arrested in Shigatse, the second largest city in the TAR, for attempting to carry photographs of the Dalai Lama and audiotapes of religious teachings across the border from Nepal to the TAR. Two of the men received four-year sentences, while the third, Jigme Gyatso, received two years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights. Following his release, Jigme escaped to Nepal in July 2005, where he indicated that the three men were tortured prior to confessing to the crime of "instigation to split the country."

Owing to strictly controlled access to the TAR, it is difficult to determine the exact number of political prisoners. The Tibet Information Network estimated that approximately 145 Tibetans are currently imprisoned for political crimes, approximately two-thirds of whom are monks or nuns.

As members of one of China's 55 officially recognized "minority" groups, Tibetans receive preferential treatment in university admissions and exemptions to birth control restrictions. However, the dominant role of the Chinese language in education and in careers in government, business, and academia limits opportunities for many Tibetans. In the private sector, employers favor Chinese for many jobs-es-pecially in urban areas. Also, Tibetans find it more difficult than Chinese to obtain permits and loans to open businesses.

Tibetan women are subject to China's restrictive family planning policies, which are somewhat more leniently enforced for Tibetans and other ethnic minorities than for Han Chinese. Officials limit urban Tibetans to having two children and encourage-but do not usually require-rural Tibetans to stop at three children.