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China Brings Tibetan Monasteries Under Direct Government Control

3/16/2012 7:14 AM ET

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged on Friday that the Chinese government rescinded a key policy allowing Tibetan monasteries to be run by monks who complied with government regulations, and instead introduced a system placing almost every Tibetan monastery under the direct rule of government officials permanently posted in each religious institution.

Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) Chen Quanguo announced on January 4 last that government or party officials would be stationed in almost all monasteries permanently, and that in some cases they would have the senior rank and pay of a deputy director of a provincial-level government department.

"Although the Chinese government has placed many restrictions on the practice of religion in Tibet, these new regulations represent an entirely new level of intervention by the state," said Sophie Richardson, HRW China Director. She expressed concern that "this measure, coupled with the increasing presence of government workers within monasteries, will surely exacerbate tensions in the region."

According to official documents, the new policy, known as the "Complete Long-term Management Mechanism for Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries," is described as "critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism," and aims to "ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order."

The order to post resident cadres in monasteries in the TAR was contained in an "important memorandum" on "mechanisms to build long-term stability in Tibet" issued by Politburo Standing Committee Member Jia Qinglin, Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu and other state leaders in late December. That memorandum orders the TAR to "have cadres stationed in the main monasteries to further strengthen and innovate monastery management," according to an official news report on December 20.

"This new decision is a major departure. It overturns the central guarantee of 'autonomy' that has guided policy on Tibet for decades," said Richardson.

China's policy for Tibetan monasteries, first introduced in 1962, provides that all monasteries are supposed to be run by monks - under close governmental supervision, but with only indirect involvement of officials. The policy was dropped during the Cultural Revolution (from 1966 to 1979 in Tibet), when almost all monasteries were closed and many were destroyed.

The rationale for the new system is explained in official documents as "enhancing social management" in temples. This is seen as developing an underlying objective established in 1994 which aimed to "adapt Tibetan Buddhism to socialism."

HRW called the decision to impose direct rule on almost all monasteries and to station cadres permanently in those institutions is a worrying indication that the state is becoming increasingly invasive in its management of religion in Tibet. These policies are likely to lead to further tensions and to further exacerbate social difficulties that have been growing in Tibetan areas since 2008. The move also appears to undermine statements by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this week that "we should respect Tibetan compatriots' freedom of religious belief" and that "we must treat all of our Tibetan compatriots with equality and respect."

Strict security measures and restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Tibetan areas were imposed, following a series of street protests against Chinese rule in March 2008.

Twenty-eight Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 to protest China's policies, including security measures and restrictions on the exercise of religious freedom imposed on monasteries.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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