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Repression of Freedom of Religion in Tibet Continues Unabated

Freedomhouse.com, August 10, 2007

Washington, D.C., USA -- Efforts by the Chinese government to limit the succession of Tibetan spiritual leaders, part of a comprehensive campaign to control the Tibetan people, is a fundamental violation of freedom of religion and belief, Freedom House said today.

Last week, China's State Administration for Religious Affairs posted a new set of regulations on its website declaring that reincarnations of “living Buddhas”—Tibetan monks of the highest order—must first seek approval from Chinese authorities. In an apparent effort to target the current Dalai Lama, who is living in exile in northern India, the rules prohibit any Buddhist monk living outside of China from recognizing a “living Buddha.” The new regulations take effect September 1.

“The new rules issued by the Chinese government are both deeply offensive and in violation of basic religious freedom principles,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “The selection of spiritual leadership should remain solely in the hands of the religion’s own hierarchy and outside the purview of the state.”

The Chinese government has long insisted that it must have the final say over the appointment of the most senior Tibetan monks. In 1995, the Dalai Lama and Chinese authorities chose rival reincarnations of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989. After the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama is the most important figure in Tibetan spiritual hierarchy, and will identify the next Dalai Lama, when the current one, now 72 years old, dies. As a result, Beijing could control the eventual selection of the fifteenth Dalai Lama.

“China’s repression of Tibetans, like that of its own people, is extremely strategic,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “Chinese authorities are keenly interested in the selection of Tibetan spiritual figures due to the tremendous reverence with which they are held by their followers.”

Religious freedom in Tibet is strictly limited by the Chinese government. While some religious practices are tolerated, officials forcibly suppress activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence. Possession of pictures of the Dalai Lama can lead to imprisonment, and Religious Affairs Bureaus continue to control who can study religion in Tibet. Only boys who sign a declaration rejecting Tibetan independence, expressing loyalty to the Chinese government, and denouncing the Dalai Lama are allowed by Chinese officials to become monks.

Freedom House has long advocated for Tibetans’ freedom. In 1979, at a time when U.S. officials had refused a formal relationship with the Dalai Lama for fear of annoying Chin, Freedom House arranged his first visit to the U.S. In 1991, on another visit to the U.S., the Dalai Lama accepted Freedom House’s Freedom Award.

Tibet ranks as Not Free in the 2007 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. The country received a rating of 7 (on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the lowest) for political rights and a 7 for civil liberties.

Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties around the world since 1972.

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