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Report: Impact of China’s new regulations on religious affairs on religious freedom in Tibet

October 31, 2016

International Campaign for Tibet, October 26, 2016 - In the past months, the Tibetan Buddhist institute of Larung Gar in eastern Tibet has come into the focus of international attention, as Chinese authorities have ordered the demolition of large parts of this authentic place of Buddhist religious life, which over the past years has become a destination for thousands of Buddhist practitioners, from Tibet and China. While the Chinese authorities’ measures at Larung Gar have come under scrutiny by a concerned international public, the Chinese government has drafted a revision of its religious affairs regulations that may have a far reaching effect on Tibetan Buddhism, as it will consolidate the state’s repressive approach towards religious groups.

These 2016 draft religious affairs regulations should be assessed against the background of a new set of laws that can be viewed as a systematic development of a security architecture, which – with regard to Tibet – dates back to the time before the presidency of Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping, most notably, has moved to ensure that a number of completely new laws have been drafted and adopted quickly, thereby completing this architecture. Among those are the 2015 Security Law, the NGO Law (in force January 2017), the 2016 Counter Terrorism Law, and the Cyber Security Law (not yet passed). With its ideological origins reflected in the notorious “Document No 9” that became known in 2013, these laws represent the Communist Party’s – and apparently foremost its leader’s – will to gain maximum control over every aspect of societal activities, which from the Party’s point of view pose a threat to its legitimacy.

Tibet has been a testing ground for such policies which later became law. Most notably, this refers to both physical and virtual control of the population (“grid management”, social media, phone and internet surveillance and information blackouts), as far as being a testing ground for “counter-terror” rhetoric and measures that were labelled as of such intention, and which later could be rediscovered again in the so called Counter Terrorism Law.

The draft revision of the religious affairs regulations that has been published by the State Council this September thus does not represent a completely new approach to activities – in this case of religious nature – of the population, in particular with regard to Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, or Chinese Christians. But with its measures they will contribute to an even more closely knit fabric of control vis a vis these groups. In September 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated his deep concern over allegations of discrimination, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody of members of ethnic and religious communities, acknowledging the already tense situation in Tibet and Xinjiang (East Turkestan).

As a consequence, combined with the aforementioned security policies, the regulations will lead to an even more repressive situation particularly in Tibet that violates international human rights standards, and as obviously being hostile to independent expression of thought, belief and opinion, they will be counterproductive for peace and “stability” in Tibet.

The draft revision of the regulations on religious affairs must thus be opposed, as they will further restrict religious freedom, in particular for Tibetan Buddhists. Moreover, if they are not resisted by the concerned international public, the current Chinese leadership around Xi Jinping will most likely feel encouraged to implement even more repressive policies in Tibet, but also beyond in the entire PRC, eventually with unforeseeable effects for China’s position internationally. Instead, the Chinese government must be urged to revise its laws on religious affairs to bring them into conformity with international human rights standards. This is particularly true for the regulations on religious affairs.

Read the full report, with citations and recommendations, at: https://www.savetibet.org/suffocating-religious-freedom-in-tibet-chinas-draft-regulations-on-religious-affairs/

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