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US report says continued repression and decline marked state of religious freedom in Tibet in 2016

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 15, 2017. (Photo courtesy: US Department of State.)
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 15, 2017. (Photo courtesy: US Department of State.)

(TibetanReview.net, Aug17, 2017) – The US State Department has painted a grim picture of the state of religious freedom in Chinese ruled Tibet in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2016. Releasing the report on Aug 15, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Chinese “authorities engaged in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries”.

And the report itself said, “Across the Tibetan Plateau 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, according to media reporting and human rights organizations.”

The report took note of continuing decline of the traditional monastic system in Tibet “as many top Buddhist teachers remained or died in exile in India or elsewhere, and some of those who returned from India were not allowed to teach or lead their institutions.”

It cited Tibet scholars as saying 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.

The report noted that in a deviation from traditional custom, government officials, rather than religious leaders, managed the selection of the reincarnate lamas’ religious and lay tutors in the Tibet Autonomous Region and some other Tibetan areas.

The report said the Chinese government met with repression all calls for respect for human rights and freedom, including religious freedom. It said that 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. It added that several monks were detained without formal criminal charges.

The report cited multiple sources as reporting that open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, remained prohibited in almost all Tibetan areas. The same applied to pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama and whose whereabouts have remained unknown since 1995.

“Punishments in certain counties for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included closing of venues, expulsion from monasteries, and criminal prosecution,” the report said.

Rex Tillerson called religious freedom a cherished American value and a universal human right” and added, “The release of this report gives voice to all those worldwide seeking to live their lives peacefully in accordance with their conscience.”

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