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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The Critical Situation of Tibet

October 23, 2011

 “Freedom in Tibet.” “We want Human Rights.” “We want Religious Freedom.” “Return of the Dalai Lama in Tibet.” With folded hands in supplicatory gestures, these slogans were raised in recent protests against the Chinese government. A few also demanded independence.

Unfortunately, a series of self-immolation incidents that have occurred in Tibet this year. On 16 March, monk Phuntsog (age 21) of Kirti Monastery set himself on fire in Ngaba. On 15 August, monk Tsewang Norbu (age 29) from Tawu Nyatso Monastery set himself ablaze. On 26 September, monks Lobsang Kelsang (age 18) and Lobsang Kunchok (age 19) self-immolated. On 3 October, Kelsang Wangchuk (age 17) of Kirti Monastery set himself alight. On 7 October, Khaying (age 18) and Choepel (age 19), two former monks of Kirti Monastery, immolated themselves in protest against the Chinese government. On 15 October, Norbu Damdul (estimated age 19), a former monk of Kirti monastery, also set himself on fire. Most recently, on 17 October, nun Tenzin Wangmo (estimated age 20) self-immolated in protest against the Chinese government. Of these, the following five succumbed to their injuries: Phuntsog (on 16 March), Tsewang Norbu (on 15 August), Khaying (on 8 October), Choepel (on 11 October) and Tenzin Wangmo (on 17 October). The others are hospitalized and are in critical condition. On 27 February 2009, Tapey, also belonging to Kirti monastery, became the first Tibetan monk to self-immolate. He was shot in the leg during the protest and Chinese police took him to a hospital. Since then, no one has heard of his whereabouts or medical condition.

Peaceful protests in Tibet are always met with severe crackdowns. Restrictions and restraining rules are levied against various aspects of life in Tibet, such as in terms of national identity, expression of thought (including through articles and songs), and cultural and environment preservation. Even traditional religious activities are suspected of being political activities. Any Tibetan individual involved in these (and other) acts are charged with various accusations. Arbitrary detention, involuntarily disappearances, torture, and unfair trials are common. With such measures, strike-hard campaigns are imposed on Tibetans in Tibet.

Many policies do not cater to the needs of the present situation in Tibet, nor are they in accordance with the Tibetan people’s wishes. Movement is controlled and religious practices are either limited or completely forbidden. Several laws and policies are specifically aimed to control Tibet’s Buddhist institutions. Such acts not only violate the very principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also the Constitution of China. Article 33 of the Chinese constitution provides for the safeguard and protection of Human Rights. However, in practice, the same law doesn’t apply to the Tibetan population in Tibet.

During the Fifth Tibet Work Forum, held from 18-20 January 2010, policies on economic development and long term stability were framed. Political restrictions in Tibet were tightened after this meeting. The policies of Patriotic Re-education and Legal education were strengthened and serious checks on political activities were maintained. Top level meetings on Public Security and Religious Affairs were later convened in August 2010. Restrictions at borders were intensified and greater police networks were developed in an attempt to curb acts of ‘separatism’ or ‘causing harm to social stability.’ On 14-15 August, the United Front Work Department of the CPC held a meeting with all the managers of the monasteries in Shigatse in order to make the regulatory management of monasteries more strict. On 30 September, the National Religion Affairs bureau issued ‘Management measure for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples,’ Also known as Order No. 8, this measure goes into effect on 1 November and has the purpose of distancing any foreign influence and ‘separatist activities’.

Because of the repressive policies that go against the wishes of the Tibetan locals, these Tibetans felt compelled to take the drastic step of self-immolation. And because these Chinese policies are responsible for the self-immolations, China, therefore, should be responsible for their lives. The Chinese government’s policy of ‘Patriotic Re-education’ deliberately harms the sentiments of Tibetans. Religious institutions face severe crackdowns, restrictions on religious activities, the arrest and expulsion of monks and nuns, and the open encouragement to voluntarily de-robe with monetary rewards. All administrative functions of the monasteries are now taken care of by Chinese officials, whose offices are stationed inside the monasteries themselves. Depriving monks and nuns of all their freedom, these monasteries have become prisons.

After the spring 2008 uprising, the population of monks and nuns in Tibet has sharply declined. For example, Drepung monastery had over 1,200 monks before 2008 but now only around 400 remain. Highly revered Lamas and elder teachers of some monasteries have been arrested and their monasteries now face the danger of being locked down. For instance, many nuns from the Kandze Puruna Nunnery and Yangteng Nunnery were arrested. The revered head of the nunneries, Tulku Phurbu Tsering, was arrested and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.
The Police Security Bureau (PSB) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP) constantly keep strict vigilance and patrol the local streets. Many police personnel are plain clothed. Under such circumstances, the locals have no choice but to lead a hard life in fear. Cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture result in serious health problems or death for hundreds. For example, Kandze Puruna Nunnery’s Sonam Choedon was arrested in the May 2008 peaceful protest. She was hit by the police on her head with the butt of rifle, leading to severe brain injuries and resulting in mental instability. On 7 April 2011, Chukpel and two other Tibetans peacefully protested near Zamthang police station. Chukpel was beaten so severely that he died after reaching the hospital.  Likewise, in June 2011, after completing a 15 year prison sentence, monk Poloe of Gaden monastery died within a week after his release. Sog Tsenden Monastery monk Yeshe Tenzin, who was released after serving a ten year term, died on 7 September, 2011 at his home. In April 2009, Thinlay was arrested and tortured after protesting in Kandze, ultimately leading to his deteriorated health and eventual death in August 2011.

TCHRD estimates that in 2011 alone, 200 known Tibetans have been arrested in Tibet and 50 Tibetans have been sentenced. Overall, there are around 980 known political prisoners out of which 415 have been sentenced. TCHRD also estimates that since 2008, over 170 Tibetans have died from abuse by Chinese authorities.

The current situation in Tibet is extremely grave and the human rights situation is deteriorating sharply. TCHRD appeals to the UN Human Rights Council, various international governments and NGOs to intervene in this serious issue by placing pressure on the Chinese government to immediately stop its harsh policies against the Tibetan people. We urge China to abandon restrictions on movement, arbitrary arrests, torture, unfair trials, and Patriotic Re-education campaigns in Tibet.




Dukthen Kyi (Ms)
Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
Top Floor Narthang Building
Gangchen Kyishong, Dharamsala
H.P. INDIA 176215  office. +91-1892 223363/ 225874

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