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Opinion: China should talk with monks, not evict them

June 27, 2016

By Sophie Richardson

Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2016 - “Is the recent government plan to demolish Larung Gar without evidence or explanation a failure of the [Chinese ] constitution or a misuse of power by some government official?” a resident of Larung Gar,  the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the world, said in a letter asking China’s government to withdraw its order.

The writer indicates that there has been little or no consultation with residents about the plan to demolish the homes of monks and nuns living there, leaving homes for only 5,000, and no way for residents to challenge the decree.  

Governments have an obligation to ensure public health and safety.  But more evidence has come to light undermining one official’s claim that the order is merely an effort to improve fire exits and address poor sanitation facilities.

The demolition order coincides with a major drive to impose stronger control over religion in the Tibetan prefectures of Sichuan province. In late May, a senior provincial official toured Tibetan areas giving speeches against “illegal, extremist and infiltrative” religious activities, and calling on officials to strengthen “ideological education” so that “the monks and nuns will realize that there is no fundamental difference between loving the Communist Party of China and loving Buddhism.”

That same week, the deputy Sichuan party secretary, Liu Guozhong, held “propaganda sessions” with Tibetan monks, issuing a similar message.   On May 24 and 25, the director of the body in charge of religious policy in Sichuan, Cui Baohua, visited Larung Gar itself, telling monks and officials that they must “actively grasp the resolute resistance to foreign forces using religion as a means of infiltration” and “actively grasp the Party’s leadership over religion.” 

The speeches indicate that the order to downsize Larung Gar is part of an effort to increase government control over monasteries and their residents.

Chinese President Xi Jinping regularly touts the importance of China’s constitution and his government’s respect for the rule of law.  But these developments demonstrate disdain for the rights to freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion. They also show an unwillingness to consult populations affected by government projects, and a conflation of religion with subversive, anti-state activity. 

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