China tightens noose on retired Tibetan government officials showing religiosity

Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet.

(, Sep12’19) – It is not just party members but even retired Tibetan government officials and even students who are banned from practicing religion in Chinese ruled Tibet, said New York-based Human Rights Watch Sep 11, especially citing an undated communist party notice which appeared to have been issued in early Aug 2019. The notice was said to express concern that “retired personnel performing kora are numerous and widespread,” adding that even some party members were still “openly and semi-openly” religious.

The rights group said the notice required all Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government and party offices in charge of retired government employees – regardless of whether those retirees were party members – to submit a list by Aug 18 of any “retired personnel performing the kora,” the Tibetan religious practice of circumambulating a sacred site or temple while reciting prayers or mantras.

The notice was said to provide for punishing those whose names appear in the list. Each office had by 12:30 pm on Aug 18 to “submit a written personnel name list and suggestions for sanctions” to be imposed on retired government workers found doing kora.

The notice was stated to have been issued by the department under the TAR Party Committee charged with overseeing retired government employees. It was said to instruct the relevant offices “to earnestly carry out a self-inspection, and to conduct a survey to ascertain whether there is such a phenomenon” of retirees performing circumambulations, and whether there are “such personnel among retired cadres and retired Party personnel in local departments and work units.”

The rights group noted that while Communist Party members throughout China were banned by party regulations from engaging in religious worship or activities, there was no basis for the party to impose penalties on people, including government workers, who were not party members. It added that most government employees in the TAR were not party members.

Detecting those to be targeted for punishment was stated to be easy because the TAR authorities had set up checkpoints in 2008 at the entrance to the major circumambulation sites in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. The group spoke of having come to learn that at least two current schoolteachers, who are considered government employees, being given oral warnings by their superiors after going through these checkpoints, irrespective of whether their purpose had been religious.

But the imposition of punishment for such an “offence” is nothing new. The group cited a Lhasa resident as having said back in 2015 that retired government workers found to have engaged in religious activities had in the past been punished by reduction or cancellation of their pensions, medical benefit cards, and other retirement benefits.

The report said TAR leaders introduced the ban on religious activities by government workers after a tightening of policy in 1994, and it has been in force ever since. The group noted that a similar ban on religious activities had been applied to schoolchildren and students in the TAR since around 1994.

The latest notice is said to be part of a new party internal disciplinary campaign known as “Not forgetting the original intention, carry on the mission,” a nationwide campaign begun in Jun 2019 with the aim to expose and eliminate any disloyalty among party members.

Zhu Weiqun, a hardline anti-minority, retired top-level minority affairs official in Beijing, led a central government inspection team on a tour of the TAR in July. The group said he led discussions that resulted in the notice.

China is party to several international human rights treaties that endorse the right to freedom of religion and belief and Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution provides that “[c]itizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.”

Pointing this out, Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, has said, “Time and again China’s authorities make a mockery of their own claims to respect religious freedom.”


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