Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The security clampdown established after an uprising in 2008 was sustained during 2013 and increasingly extended to Tibetan areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Over the course of the year, a total of 26 Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. The authorities responded with communications blackouts, “patriotic education” campaigns, travel restrictions, and intrusive new controls on monasteries. Despite the repressive atmosphere, many Tibetans expressed solidarity with the self-immolators, protested discriminatory language policies, and quietly maintained contact with the exile community.
Intermittent talks between the government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, last held in 2010, did not resume during 2013, marking the longest period without negotiations since 2002. Meanwhile, Beijing continued to press foreign leaders to refrain from meeting with the Dalai Lama and to endorse the official Chinese position on Tibet.
While the region had been periodically accessible to tourists and journalists under special conditions since 2008, travel restrictions on Tibetans and foreigners attempting to enter the TAR intensified in 2012, and access remained extremely limited in 2013. The U.S. ambassador to China was allowed to visit the TAR in June, the first such visit by an American official in over two years.
Political Rights: -2 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 0 / 12
The Chinese government rules Tibet through administration of the TAR and 12 Tibetan autonomous prefectures or counties in the nearby provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan. Under the Chinese constitution, autonomous areas have the right to formulate their own regulations and implement national legislation in accordance with local conditions. In practice, decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of senior, ethnic Chinese CCP officials. In August 2011, Zhang Qingli was replaced as TAR party secretary by Chen Quanguo. The few ethnic Tibetans who occupy senior positions serve mostly as figureheads and echo official doctrine on Tibet. Padma Thrinley (known as Pema Choling in the Chinese press) was replaced by Losang Gyaltsen as chairman of the TAR government in January 2013; both men are Tibetans.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 0 / 16
All political activity outside the CCP is illegal and harshly punished, as is any evidence of loyalty to or communication with the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India. The exile government includes an elected parliament serving five-year terms, a Supreme Justice Commission that adjudicates civil disputes, and—since 2001—a directly elected prime minister, also serving five-year terms. The unelected Dalai Lama, who served as head of state, renounced his political role in March 2011. Lobsang Sangay was elected prime minister the following month, replacing a two-term incumbent and becoming the exile government’s top political official.
C. Functioning of Government: 1 / 12
Corruption is believed to be extensive in Tibet, as in the rest of China. Nevertheless, little information was available during the year on the scale of the problem or official measures to combat it.
Discretionary Political Rights Question B: -3 / 0
The Chinese government’s economic development programs in Tibet have strongly encouraged ethnic Chinese migration to the region, disproportionately benefited ethnic Chinese residents, and exacerbated the marginalization of ethnic Tibetans, who have also been displaced by mass resettlement campaigns. Intrusive and discriminatory government policies on education and religious institutions have added to Tibetan fears of cultural assimilation.
Civil Liberties: 3 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression: 0 / 16
Chinese authorities tightly restrict all media in Tibet. Such measures intensified in 2013 as the authorities sought to suppress information about self-immolations and related security crackdowns. International broadcasts are jammed and communications devices periodically confiscated. The online restrictions and monitoring in place across China are enforced even more stringently in the TAR. In July 2012, Human Rights Watch reported new media controls and invigorated state propaganda efforts, particularly in the TAR. These included distribution of satellite receivers fixed to government channels and a pilot project for broadcasting official messages via loudspeakers in 40 villages. A number of Tibetans who transmitted information abroad suffered repercussions including long prison sentences. Some internet and mobile-telephone users have been arrested solely for accessing banned information. On several occasions in 2013, the authorities cut off the internet and mobile-phone text-messaging near the sites of self-immolations in Sichuan and Gansu Provinces. According to overseas Tibetan groups, scores of writers, intellectuals, and musicians have been arrested since 2008, with some sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Among other such detentions during 2013, Chinese officials in October arrested three writers who provided information to outside observers, on the grounds that they carried out “political activities aimed at destroying social stability and dividing the Chinese homeland.”
Authorities continued to restrict access to the TAR for foreign journalists, human rights researchers, and even tourists in 2013. They were denied entry surrounding politically sensitive dates, such as the anniversary of the 2008 protests. During other periods, they were required to travel in groups and obtain official permission to visit the TAR, but even then, last-minute travel bans were sometimes imposed. Foreign journalists were consistently prevented from entering Tibetan areas of Sichuan and other provinces, though no permission is technically required for travel there. Residents who assist foreign journalists are reportedly harassed. In May 2013, a French television station aired a documentary that was filmed undercover by a reporter visiting the TAR on a tourist visa. Chinese officials subsequently harassed and threatened the journalist and his station. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China condemned Beijing’s aggressive attempts to prevent reporting on the region.
The authorities regularly suppress religious activities, particularly those seen as forms of dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence. Possession of Dalai Lama–related materials can lead to official harassment and punishment, though many Tibetans secretly possess such items. CCP members, government employees, and their family members are not allowed to practice Buddhism, at least within the TAR. The Religious Affairs Bureaus (RABs) control who can study in monasteries and nunneries. Officials allow only men and women over age 18 to become monks and nuns, and they are required to sign a declaration rejecting Tibetan independence, expressing loyalty to the government, and denouncing the Dalai Lama. In January 2012, the CCP announced that new committees of government officials were being set up within monasteries to manage their daily operations and enforce party indoctrination campaigns. Under the previous arrangement, managing committees comprised monks and nuns who had been deemed politically reliable. That system was reportedly retained in Tibetan regions outside the TAR, but with a government official appointed as deputy director. In addition, police posts are increasingly common even in smaller monasteries. In June 2013, exile groups and activists decried the demolition of historic sections of Lhasa adjacent to UNESCO World Heritage sites of religious significance, reportedly as part of a plan to construct a large shopping mall and other commercial or tourist facilities.
Ideological education campaigns that had been conducted sporadically since 1996 began to escalate in 2005, intensified again after 2008, and expanded further in 2013, reaching most monasteries and nunneries in the region. Such campaigns typically force participants to recognize the CCP claim that China “liberated” Tibet and to denounce the Dalai Lama. Some monks and nuns have reportedly left their institutions to avoid the sessions. The effort has also been extended to the lay population in recent years, with students, civil servants, and farmers required to participate in discussions, singing sessions, and propaganda film screenings. In a program initiated in 2011, tens of thousands of CCP cadres have been sent to villages across the TAR to scrutinize residents’ views and enforce the government’s message.
University professors cannot lecture on certain topics, and many must attend political indoctrination sessions. The government restricts course materials to prevent the circulation of unofficial versions of Tibetan history.
E. Freedom of Association: 0 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are severely restricted in practice. Independent trade unions and human rights groups are illegal, and even nonviolent protests are often harshly punished. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused on development and public health operate under highly restrictive agreements. Despite the risks, Tibetans continue to seek avenues for expressing dissatisfaction with government policies. Most self-immolation protesters in 2012 and 2013 were lay Tibetans, including farmers facing eviction from their land, whereas in 2011 the majority were monks and nuns. Authorities responded to the immolations with information blackouts, a heightened security presence, and increased surveillance. Since late 2012, officials have employed collective punishment tactics, canceling public benefits for the households of self-immolators and ending state-funded projects in their villages. Notices offered rewards of up to 200,000 yuan ($31,500) for information on alleged organizers.
In addition to the self-immolations, Tibetans staged periodic demonstrations or vigils to protest CCP rule or express solidarity with the immolators. Authorities sometimes responded violently. In October, security forces repeatedly opened fire on Tibetan demonstrators in Driru, in the TAR, wounding scores, reportedly killing at least 4, and detaining hundreds more. The Tibetans were protesting government orders to fly the Chinese flag from their homes.
F. Rule of Law: 0 / 16
The judicial system in Tibet remains abysmal, and torture is reportedly widespread. The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported an increase in arrests and detentions of Tibetans in 2013, the majority of which occurred during peaceful protests. Defendants lack access to meaningful legal representation. Trials are closed if state security is invoked, and sometimes even when no political crime is listed. Chinese lawyers who offer to defend Tibetan suspects have been harassed or disbarred. Security forces routinely engage in arbitrary detention, and detainees’ families are often left uninformed as to their whereabouts or well-being.
In December 2012 the central authorities unveiled guidelines indicating that engaging in self-immolations and organizing, assisting, or gathering crowds related to such acts should be considered criminal offenses, including intentional homicide in some cases. In 2013 the government implemented the new policy by arresting relatives and friends of self-immolators and handing down lengthy prison sentences. In August, a man received a death sentence after his wife self-immolated; he was accused of murdering her, reportedly after refusing to blame her death on domestic problems.
G. Personal Autonomy: 3 / 16
Heightened restrictions on freedom of movement—including the use of troop deployments, roadblocks, and passport restrictions—were employed during 2012 and continued in 2013, particularly in areas where self-immolations took place. Increased security efforts kept the number of Tibetans who successfully crossed the border into Nepal at less than 200 in 2013, continuing a trend of annual declines from over 2,000 in 2007. Some Tibetan students who were accepted by foreign schools were denied passports, preventing them from studying abroad.
Tibetans receive preferential treatment in university admission examinations, but this is often not enough to secure entrance. The dominant role of the Chinese language in education and employment limits opportunities for many Tibetans. Private employers favor ethnic Chinese for many jobs, and Tibetans reportedly find it more difficult to obtain permits and loans to open businesses.
Since 2003, the authorities have intensified efforts to resettle rural Tibetans—either by force or with inducements—in permanent-housing areas with little economic infrastructure. According to Human Rights Watch, over 2 million TAR residents have been resettled since 2006, while more than 300,000 nomadic herders in Qinghai Province have been relocated and “sedentarized.” Many have reportedly tried to return to their previous lands, risking conflict with officials.
China’s restrictive family-planning policies are more leniently enforced for Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. As a result, the TAR is one of the few areas of China without a skewed sex ratio. Officials limit urban Tibetans to two children and encourage rural Tibetans to stop at three.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year