By Tenzin Monlam
Chinese police monitoring Tibetan worshipers at a Tibetan religious festival in Tibet.
DHARAMSHALA, August 18: Placing China as one of the worst rights abusers, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its latest annual report says that Chinese authorities have ‘engaged in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries.’
Citing reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention without trial, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices, the report for 2016 says, “There were reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention, and arbitrary arrest of people due to their religious practice, as well as forced expulsions from monasteries, restrictions on religious gatherings, and destruction of monastery related dwellings.”
The commission’s report also highlights the decline of the traditional monastic system as many top Buddhist teachers remained or died in exile in India or elsewhere, and also some of those who returned from India were not allowed to teach or lead their institutions.
The report added, “Tibet scholars stated the Chinese government’s ban on minors entering monasteries and nunneries and restrictions on travel of monks and nuns threatened the traditional transmission and practice of Tibetan Buddhism.”
Restrictions on travel hinder the traditional religious practices and pilgrimages, which is one of the main aspects of the practice, it said. Moreover, the report also sees increased repression around the period of politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
Highlighting how security forces have maintained a ‘permanent presence’ at some monasteries, the report said, “In many Tibetan areas police detained monks and lay persons who called for freedom, human rights, and religious liberty, or who expressed support for the Dalai Lama or solidarity with individuals who had self-immolated. Several monks were detained without formal criminal charges.”
Being the Commission’s first religious freedom report under Trump Administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the significance of the report said, “Religious freedom is a cherished American value and a universal human right and the release of this report gives voice to all those worldwide seeking to live their lives peacefully in accordance with their conscience.”
The report also questions China’s claim of every citizen enjoying the freedom of religious belief. It says, “The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to normal religious activities without defining ‘normal’.”