The façade of freedom
by Stephanie Brigden
"They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practise in peace. These conditions make the monasteries function more like museums and are intended to deliberately annihilate Buddhism."
Visitors to Tibet often comment on the large numbers of monks who seem free to practise their religion without restriction. Temples, monasteries, nuns and monks, Buddhist rituals and festivals are all outward signs of an apparently thriving religion. The Chinese government cites this as evidence of its commitment to the free exercise of religious belief. This is a fa¸la;ade.
What visitors cannot see is the complex system of control and restrictions which make it virtually impossible for Tibetans to practise their religion in a meaningful way. What they don't see is the coercion, the surveillance, the threats and the monks and nuns who are in prison for exercising their beliefs. Religious festivals are often banned and religious leaders prevented from giving teachings simply because the authorities do not want large groups of Tibetans to gather together.
patriotic re-education…it requires them to deny the very fabric of their Buddhist belief system
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, one of the highest ranking spiritual leaders in Tibet. He was abducted by Chinese authorities in 1995 when he was six years old as a part of their strategy to control Tibetan Buddhism and so control the hearts and minds of Tibetans. China replaced the abducted Panchen Lama with a puppet Panchen Lama who has been educated by the Chinese Communist Party and now occupies a high office in the Chinese Communist Party.
The whereabouts and welfare of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, believed to have been the world's youngest political prisoner, are still unknown. China has defied numerous calls, including one from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to 'allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima whilst respecting his right to privacy, and that of his parents'.
Enshrined in Chinese law is the requirement that religion doesn't threaten 'the security, honour and interests of the motherland'. One of the ways in which China makes sure that the state comes first is by putting many, many Tibetans through a compulsory programme called patriotic reeducation in order to 'correct their thinking'. Anyone may be subjected to re-education without reason. It takes place in religious institutions and occasionally in schools or colleges.
The main aim of patriotic re-education is to instil in people that they must love the Chinese 'Motherland' and place it before their religion. The demands of re-education cause devout Tibetans great pain and distress as it requires them to deny the very fabric of their Buddhist belief system. Specifically, it demands that participants:
- Oppose 'separatism' (anything that threatens the unity of China is deemed 'separatist')
- Deny Tibet was ever or should ever be independent from China
- Agree that the Dalai Lama is destroying the unity of the Motherland
- Recognise Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, as the 'true' Panchen Lama (the Panchen Lama is the second highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism)
Chinese state media reported that in 2009 alone more than 2,300 officials were sent to 505 monasteries and nunneries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to carry out patriotic re-education.
Failure to comply with patriotic re-education campaigns has resulted in fines, surveillance and physical punishment such as beatings; monks and nuns are expelled from monasteries and nunneries, people are sometimes detained and even imprisoned for non-compliance.
forcing monks and nuns to change or recant their deeply held religious beliefs is a violation of the absolute right to freely have beliefs of one's own choosing; it also violates the right to personal integrity and dignity. Patriotic education amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and in some instances may amount to torture.
In April 2008 Chinese forces shot at least eight unarmed civilians who were protesting against patriotic re-education in Tongkhor monastery. A number of incidences of suicide have also been recorded after patriotic re-education sessions. Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans to be respected. Free Tibet raises awareness of violations of freedom of religion in Tibet through the media and gives evidence on violations to government and international bodies.
Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans to be respected.
Free Tibet raises awareness of violations of freedom of religion in Tibet through the media and gives evidence on violations to government and international bodies.
"The situation of my country Tibet - having no freedom is difficult to comprehend. Having no place for Tenzin Gyatso [the Dalai Lama] the mother of all sentient beings and the supreme head of spiritual and political head of Tibet tortures my mind. Even no freedom to keep his photo and being forced to denigrate him is the deepest suffering."