“[We] should thoroughly fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique by firmly relying on all ethnic groups… and completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardise national unity”

Xi Jinping, July 2011

Xi Jinping’s leadership has been characterised by a wholesale effort to silence dissent across a range of issues, not least relating to China’s continued occupation of restive Tibet. Human rights experts widely agree that the situation in Tibet and across China has sharply deteriorated since 2012, perhaps illustrated most starkly by the deaths in custody of highly prominent human rights defenders; the Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and Tibetan buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.

In his inauguration speech on 15 November 2012, Xi Jinping made clear that his leadership represented a new, clean start, and he began his tenure with a war on corruption. This was a well-calculated move that gained him the favour and approval of the Chinese people, since corruption is extremely widespread and pervades almost every aspect of the social, political and economic life of the country.

For the past five years, Chinese authorities have implemented harsh directives from Beijing that aim to silence opposition and increase China’s stranglehold of Tibet. Following a decades-long trail of violent crackdowns, de-facto martial law, widespread arbitrary imprisonments and neglect of the most basic human rights, Xi Jinping has sought to tighten his grip over Tibet meeting any dissent or peaceful, non-violent protests with violence and imprisonment.

Suffocating Dissent


Under Xi’s propaganda campaigns, aimed at building and disseminating a positive, benevolent and rosy image of him both nationally and internationally, his persona has been strengthened and an image at odds with the reality of Xi’s Presidency created. In reality Xi, rather than a saviour of the global order he is character that has rigidly silenced dissent, most widely through institutional mechanisms that “legalise” crackdowns on any kind of opposition.

Arrest and imprisonment of Tibetans in Tibet can be for the simplest of actions such as storing a picture of the Dalai Lama on a mobile phone or celebrating his birthday , discussing the Tibetan exile government on social media protesting against mining activities, advocating for the teaching of Tibetan language in schools or calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

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Following the Tibetan Uprising of 2008, when hundreds of non-violent demonstrations against China’s rule took place across Tibet, Beijing implemented a ‘stability maintenance’ policy to give authorities legal means to arrest thousands of individuals under charges of “terrorism” or as a “threat to national stability”. As a result thousands of Tibetans from all walks of life – lay and religious alike – have and continue to be routinely arrested for minor acts of resistance.

In many cases, protesters’ concerns are not politically motivated and do not seek to challenge China’s occupation. Nevertheless such protests are widely labeled as “endangering state security’”, “splittism” or even “terrorism” by the authorities, resulting in serious charges and severe sentences for those who carry out simple non-violent protests or actions.

An example is the case of Tashi Wangchuk, a young Tibetan shop keeper currently awaiting trial who was charged with “inciting separatism” after he openly urged for greater Tibetan language education in schools. If found guilty he faces up to 15 years in prison. Tashi Wangchuk was detained on 27 January 2016 after criticising China’s failure to adhere to its own Constitution in which the right to an education in the Tibetan language is guaranteed. However Chinese has increasingly become the predominant language of instruction in Tibet, often being the exclusive language taught. In 2015 the New York Times featured Tashi Wangchuk and the work he was doing to push for Tibetan language rights, in which – although critical of China’s language policies – he had never written about Tibetan independence. His case is a striking example of the severity of the persecution Tibetans face for simply calling for their rights under Chinese law; rights that are perceived as a threat by the Chinese government despite the fact they are protected by international human rights laws and under the Chinese Constitution.

China’s focus on the threat of Tibetan “separatism” was underlined in the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August 2015, in which the Dalai Lama was specifically blamed for “anti-separatist” activities and the importance of “stability” was emphasized, described by the International Campaign for Tibet as “political language for the elimination of dissent and enforcement of compliance to Chinese Communist Party policies”

Political Detention


Testimonies from released Tibetan political prisoners detail evidence of the widespread use of torture as a method to extract confessions. Reports indicate political prisoners are regularly beaten and there are repeated instances of detainees being subjected to electric shocks, being hung from the ceiling for periods lasting several hours, and shackled to a “Tiger” or interrogation chair.

In 2015 the UN Committee against Torture reviewed China and concluded that torture is “deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system” emphasising the ”numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans”. The Committee expressed strong concern for the endemic lack of access to lawyers and to adequate medical treatments, for widespread arbitrary arrests of people who are kept incommunicado for long periods, as well as for the routine use of torture and the general ill-treatment of prisoners.

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Severe prison conditions have led to the death of a number of Tibetan prisoners. The most prominent case is Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a reincarnated Lama who died on 12 July 2015 after 13 years in detention. Tenzin Delek, was a revered Lama from Eastern Tibet who was very active in his community, initiating public projects such as orphanages, schools and old people’s homes. Despite his long track record of community service, in 2002 he was arrested and falsely accused by the authorities of being involved in two bomb explosions in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. While he was initially sentenced to death on charges of “terrorism and inciting separatism”, his sentence was later changed to life imprisonment. Throughout the years of his detention Tenzin Delek Rinpoche maintained his innocence through audio and written messages.Prison conditions for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche were particularly harsh. He was denied the right to family visits and continuous maltreatment resulted in his critically ill health. While the authorities’ official version is that he died of cardiac arrest, his niece Nyima Lhamo was one of the only people who were allowed to see his dead body to perform funeral rites, and she noticed signs of torture.

In order to decrease the number of deaths in custody, China frequently discharges terminally ill prisoners. This has been the case for several Tibetan political prisoners who were sent home from prisons and hospitals when it was obvious that their health was inevitably compromised as a result of torture and mistreatment, and that they would die soon.

Religious Persecution


Tibetan monks and nuns have played a crucial role in outwardly demonstrating against China’s rule in Tibet since 1959, and as a result represent the majority of Tibetan political prisoners.

With monks and nuns at the forefront of Tibetan resistance, monasteries and nunneries are targeted by authorities in an attempt to prevent anti-government activism. Surveillance of monasteries and nunneries across Tibet has increased under the grid system, with growing numbers of Communist Party officials installed on Tibetan institute management committees, vastly limiting religious freedom.

Compulsory “patriotic re-education” sessions have become increasingly common in Tibetan monasteries and villages: such sessions can last for months at a time, and they often require participants to sign declarations in which they are forced to reject Dalai Lama.

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A recent Freedom House report on religious freedom in China and Tibet, “new measures imposed since November 2012 include punishing assistance to self-immolators, canceling previously permitted festivals, increasing restrictions on private religious practice, and more proactively manipulating Tibetan Buddhist doctrine and selection of religious leaders.”

In September 2017, revised rules on religious activity were issued and further harsh conditions incorporated with religious practices in Tibet increasingly associated with ‘threats’ to Chinese national security, nuns, monks and lay Buddhists are more likely to be accused of “splittism” and “terrorism”, or of being part of the so-called “Dalai clique”. These revised rules can be seen as a consolidation of the far-reaching powers of Beijing in Tibet and an additional threat to the continued survival of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet.

Further State control of religious freedom can be seen in China’s efforts to curb the number of buddhist practitioners allowed to reside in Tibetan nunneries and monasteries. In the past year, Chinese authorities have demolished swathes of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two world-renowned Buddhist institutes in Eastern Tibet.

Around 7,000 houses and buildings have been demolished and at least 6,500 Tibetan monks and nuns have been expelled from these two centres alone. Many of these practitioners have been forced to undergo humiliating patriotic re-education sessions, performing dances and singing in military uniforms and have been sent back to their villages of origin with official notices that bar their return to the institutes that had been their homes for years. Furthermore, recent evidence has shown that there are also plans to develop Larung Gar as a tourist destination with growing concern that we will see the renowned institute transformed into a low quality Disneyland-style tourist site.

Silencing the International Community


Following the example of Mao Zedong, Xi Jinping is paying a great deal of attention to building his image, both nationally and internationally. Since he came to power in 2012, Xi’s government has increased its efforts to change the negative view the world holds of China’s human rights record through soft power, direct threats, political influence, infiltration in universities, manipulation of international media, trade deals and blunt propaganda.

In the last five years there have been heavy-handed cases in which China dictated conditions over national policies in foreign countries. In 2014, Chinese pressure on Spain prompted the Spanish government to make legislative changes undermining the country’s adherence to the principles of “Universal Jurisdiction”, and thereby forcing the closure of high profile court cases under which former Chinese leaders had been indicted for their actions in Tibet. Following a visit of the Dalai Lama to Mongolia in late 2016, Chinese authorities threatened to stop investing in the country if the exiled Tibetan religious leader was invited again in the future. Likewise, in April 2017 China tried to pressure India to prevent the Dalai Lama from travelling to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state with a large Tibetan population neighbouring Tibet.

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Governments have also come under pressure to prevent human rights campaigners from protesting when Xi Jinping travels abroad. The Swiss authorities imposed a ban on protests during Xi’s visit in January 2017 and in the UK in October 2015, British authorities detained a number of protesters, including two Tibetans and also Tiananmen survivor and human rights activist Shao Jiang.

Most recently Human Rights Watch denounced the level of threats and influence that China is exercising at the United Nations. These tactics take the form of systematic attempts to silence and threaten human rights activists and NGOs, cut the budget for UN human rights observers, as well as the harassment and intimidation of UN staff.

We Call on Xi

We call on Xi Jinping to adopt a paradigm shift in the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to Tibet that gives full agency over formulating future policies to the Tibetan people, by first acknowledging its failures and the illegitimacy of its military rule over Tibet. Xi Jinping must commit to a just and lasting resolution that recognizes the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination under international law. Xi Jinping must implement the following recommendations immediately:

  • Stop the Chinese government’s use of military force to crackdown on the Tibetan people. Withdraw security forces from monasteries and places where protests have taken place.
  • Allow immediate and unfettered access to Tibet by foreign media, diplomats, international observers and foreign tourists.
  • Cease the harsh and systematic repression of religious and cultural life in Tibet, and suspend with immediate effect the Chinese government’s patriotic education programme.
  • Halt all economic and development policies detrimental to safeguarding the prospects and livelihood of the Tibetans. Reduce the dependency of the Tibetan economy on Chinese government subsidies by favouring bottom up, sustainable development models that offer opportunities to disadvantaged Tibetans and cease all financial incentives for Chinese settlement onto the plateau and allow the Tibetans to be full partners in all decisions over land use in Tibet.
  • Stop environmentally destructive mining and damming projects, and engage with downstream nations to implement bottom-up participatory management of Tibet’s water resources.
  • Release all political prisoners detained for engaging in peaceful protest, arbitrarily detained or sentenced without a just trial in accordance with international law immediately and unconditionally.

We Call on World Leaders to

  • Express strong public condemnation of China’s intensifying religious and cultural repression in Tibet, with specific reference to widespread programmes of “patriotic education” and harsh measures to punish individuals for peaceful expression of their cultural and political freedom.
  • Seek to send diplomats to affected areas and demand from China assurances that foreign journalists be allowed unfettered access to the TAR and Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan.
  • Expand capacity to monitor the situation in Tibet, including continuing to push for greater access to Tibet. Initiate or elevate efforts to establish a diplomatic presence in Lhasa, and expand existing resources within Beijing embassies for monitoring.
  • Raise strong concerns over the failure of economic and development policies in Tibet, including the lack of Tibetan participation in shaping these policies.
    Increase programmatic support for Tibetans in Tibet and for programmes that facilitate information exchange between Tibetans in exile and in Tibet.
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