Document Exposes Intensification of State-sanctioned Religious Repression in Troubled Tibetan County

Chinese authorities have intensified anti-religious campaigns by systematically converting Tibetan monastic institutions into Chinese government offices and the monastic population into Chinese Communist Party members in Diru (Ch: Biru) County in Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), in Kham province.

These campaigns, implemented by the local County government and party through a new regulation, has severely curtailed the right to freedom of religion and belief of local Tibetans, particularly the monastics many of whom have been expelled and punished, as the authorities exercise absolute control over the functioning and administration over religious institutions.

TCHRD recently obtained a copy of Document no. 224 issued by the Diru County government on 19 September 2015 that calls for the intensification and deepening of the campaign to purge and reform religious institutions. The document contains a set of regulations divided into three chapters, 24 sections and 74 articles and has been circulated among relevant County, Township/town level offices, Monastery Management Committees, relevant management committees, monastic and village based permanently stationed cadres.

The regulation identifies and targets 24 activities through which religious institutions (monasteries, temples and hermitages) will be “purged and reformed” in Diru County. For instance, the Chinese authorities will keep an account of all monastic properties, and retain the sole authority to decide over their storage and repair. The authorities will monitor and control religious gatherings and ceremonies restricting local Tibetans from organizing or participating in important religious rituals.

The front page of the Notice issued by Diru County government on 19 September 2015
The front page of the Notice issued by Diru County government on 19 September 2015

The Chinese authorities will control all financial activities of religious institutions including offerings made to reincarnate or senior monks. Restrictions are placed on monasteries, reincarnate or senior monks, and individual monastics from making donations towards victims of natural disasters, or offering help in the form of loans to poor Tibetans. The regulation intensifies attempts to replace religious vows of monks and nuns with state ideology by making political education mandatory. Every Thursday monks and nuns at all religious institutions in Diru County are required to attend political education sessions.

The Diru County government retains the sole right to recognize and appoint reincarnate or other prominent religious personalities. These religious personalities are forced to lead and participate in political education campaigns, which is aimed at making monks and nuns into spokespersons of the party and the government.

The regulation intensifies an already existing restriction on the admission process and enrolment number of religious institutions in Diru County. Monks admitted in excess of the limit set by the government will be expelled. Restrictions are placed on monks and nuns wishing to travel outside of their hometown for further studies; they are even required to seek permission for short-term travels. During admissions into monastic institutions, the authorities will refer to another regulation to control the selection process, making it easier to admit candidates demonstrating strong support and loyalty to the party and the government.

The last page of the Notice bearing the stamp of the Diru County government
The last page of the Notice bearing the stamp of the Diru County government

Religious activities involving the building and repair of monuments or carving mani stones by religious and lay Tibetans are strictly controlled under this regulation. Reincarnate and other prominent religious personalities are barred from using their mediation skills in resolving local disputes, a practice that has come down from generations of spiritual bond and kinship between the lay and monastic Tibetans. Schools initiated and founded by reincarnate lamas to promote Tibetan language and culture have come under the scanner.

“This regulation evokes the memory of Cultural Revolution when the whole structure of the society, from top to bottom, was subjected to sweeping state scrutiny and punishment,” said Tsering Gyel, Tibetan/Chinese researcher at TCHRD. “Each level of the party and government offices and units, from County to village, is held responsible for any leniency in their duty to enforce the regulation.” In the event of any laxity, Mr Gyel said responsible officers and staff from the County United Front Work Department, relevant party committees, Religious Affairs Bureau, Finance office, relevant government offices, and permanent work team officers at religious institutions will be warned, blacklisted, deprived of salaries, fired, depending on the seriousness of the case.

Religious institutions that fail to strictly implement the regulation will be shut down and subjected to political education campaign. The official ceiling on the number of monks and nuns allowed to each religious institution will be decreased, and a four-year ban will slapped on any new enrolment. The relevant reincarnate monks, abbots and senior monks will have their salaries cut. Salary of the members of the Monastery Management Committees will also be cut for six months, in addition to two months of political education sessions. Individual monks and nuns who fail to comply will be deprived of stipends and then subjected to six months of rigorous political education. Serious cases will result in direct expulsion, or worse, detention and imprisonment. In the event of any leniency in implementing this regulation among lay villagers, the heads of Village Committees and Village party committees will be warned, blacklisted, fired, and banned from harvesting caterpillar fungus for two years. Lay Tibetan families and parents of monks and nuns who break the regulation will be subjected to six months of political education sessions, and banned from harvesting caterpillar fungus for two to three years. Their subsidies and welfare benefits will be cut, with serious cases attracting detention and imprisonment.

Chinese People's Armed Police face unarmed local Tibetans in October 2013 in Diru County
Chinese People’s Armed Police face unarmed local Tibetans in October 2013 in Diru County

This regulation also cites seven other regulations that are being implemented to intensify many existing restrictions on Tibetan religious institutions and lay community. The seven regulations are 1) Regulation on Dealing with Officers Failing to Maintain Stability in Tibet Autonomous Region, 2) Regulation on Dealing with Illegal Crossing of Border to attend Religious Gatherings, Rumormongers, Sharing harmful publications?, and traveling outside TAR for further studies (issued by Diru County government for temporary implementation), 3) Penalties for Failure to Implement the work of reforming, purging and normalizing religious institutions (issued by Diru County government for temporary implementation), 4) Regulation on Punishing government officers 5) Registration Manual for Monastic Enrolment in Diru County, 6) Decree on Religious Work, and 7) TAR Religious Work Decree.

The implementation of these regulations has increased repression and human rights violations. Rather than governing Tibet in accordance with ‘rule of law’, Chinese authorities are using law to encroach upon fundamental rights and freedoms of local Tibetans. Law is used as a tool of oppression and a means to ensure uniform compliance to unpopular policies.

In July 2013, official Chinese media reported the implementation of the party’s “adhere to mass line and building harmony” campaign for the third time in Diru County. Many controversial mass propaganda and surveillance campaigns are being enforced in the name of building a “stable and prosperous” Diru. In September 2013, official Chinese media reported that the Chinese authorities had sent in 60,000 cadres to be permanently stationed in 5459 villages and 1877 monastic institutions in TAR. These cadres will either work as village level party secretary or as ‘work team’ cadres running political education campaigns and espionage activities under another controversial campaign known as “The Six Ones”.

Since 2012 in Diru County, 104 known Tibetans have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, disappeared or imprisoned – among them, four remain disappeared and another four died in police custody. Two of those who died in detention were village leaders.

Lobsang Yeshi, a former village leader and father of eight children, died at the age of 64, on 19 July 2015 in a hospital in Lhasa, after being detained on 12 May 2014. He died due to excessive torture, maltreatment and negligence at Chushur Prison in Lhasa. Last November, Bachen Gyewa aka Ngawang Monlam, another village headman in Diru County was removed from his post, arrested and then died in police custody. Two other village leaders Ngangtak, 54, and Rigsal, 31 were each sentenced to 10 years in prison on 14 January 2014 for failing to maintain stability. Both men were secretly detained on 24 November 2013. A senior Buddhist scholar Ngawang Jampel aka Ngawang Jamyang, 45, died in police custody on 17 December 2013, less than a month after his secret detention on 23 November 2013 in Lhasa. Konchok Dakpa, a young man from Diru Township died in detention in January 2014 after he was held incommunicado for weeks since his arrest in December 2013.

In recent years, TCHRD has closely monitored the situation in Diru, and published information gathered through a network of sources with contacts with local people. The restrictions contained in this new regulation confirm years of reporting and victim testimonies from the ground. Past reports of TCHRD contain evidences of escalating violence and crackdown, and religious repression, and holding Tibetan livelihood to ransom by barring local Tibetans from harvesting caterpillar fungus, one of the primary sources of income for majority of residents in Diru. “This regulation is the latest in a series of regulations passed by local authorities in Diru particularly since late 2011. Chinese authorities have faced sustained and stiff opposition to its implementation of ‘Mass Line’ campaigns in Nagchu Prefecture, particularly in Diru and Sog counties. The fact that the current regulation was passed and implemented since September this year shows that the situation in Diru remains tense and volatile,” said Tsering Tsomo, executive director of TCHRD. “We call on the Chinese authorities to allow international media and human rights groups to visit Diru and Sog counties to independently assess the ground situation. We are deeply concerned that gross human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, are being perpetrated with the active support of local Chinese authorities in Diru.”

To download a summary translation of the notification, click here. 

To access (or download) the full document, please click here.

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