HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
CUTTING OFF THE SERPENTS HEAD
Tightening Control in Tibet, 1994-1995
March 1996, ISBN 1-56432-166-5
SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION | TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART 1: THE POLITICAL CONTEXT
I. SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION
This report, based entirely on primary sources, documents the emerging trends in political repression in Tibet, an area which for the purposes of this report includes both the mountainous plateau now called the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and the Tibetan-inhabited parts of the neighboring Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. It examines new Chinese government strategies for dealing with dissent and focuses in particular on the impact of a crucial conference held in Beijing in July 1994 known as the Third National Forum on Work in Tibet or the Third Forum for short. The Third Forum produced the most fundamental revision of policies on Tibet since the relaxation of hard-line Maoist policies in 1979 and led directly, among other things, to a dramatic increase in political imprisonment which is exhaustively documented in the report.
The main findings of the study are that political dissent in Tibet is spreading to rural areas and to wider sections of the community; that the number of political prisoners in Tibet substantially increased in 1994-1995; that the Third Forum has resulted in increasingly repressive policies, many of which are designed to identify potential dissidents in the broader population through various mechanisms of surveillance and screening; and that the dispute over the selection of the Panchen Lama, Tibets second most senior religious leader, has been used to increase restrictions on religion and to set up denunciation campaigns against religious leaders in a way not seen for some fifteen years. The conclusions can be summarized as follows:
As of January 1996 the names of 610 Tibetans in detention for opposition to Chinese rule had been documented. The whereabouts of an additional eighty political detainees remain unknown. This means that there are now more political detainees in Chinese prisons in Tibet than at any time since lists were first compiled by observers in 1990. The difficulty of obtaining information from Tibet means that it is hard to make definitive comparisons for the whole of the Tibetan area, but there are relatively complete statistics available for Tibets main prison in Lhasa, known as Drapchi. These show that the number of political prisoners in Drapchi was 274 in August 1995, a three-fold increase in the number held there compared with five years earlier.
Protest, and therefore political imprisonment, has increased in rural areas of central Tibet. In Tibets second city, Shigatse, major dissent emerged for the first time, following the dispute over the selection of the new Panchen Lama in May 1995. That dissent prompted an increase in security activity and political arrests.
An increase in political detentions in Tibet followed the end of efforts by the U.S. administration in May 1994 to link human rights conditions and Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China. Similar gestures by other western governments, notably France and Germany, to downplay human rights concerns took place around the same time. While it is difficult to determine cause and effect, many Tibetans are convinced that the increased repression was a direct result of the easing of international pressure on China.
Suppression of dissent appears to have increased in 1995. There were, for example, more political arrests in the first three months of that year than in the whole of 1994. Following a series of pro-independence demonstrations by Buddhist monks and nuns in the first three months of 1995 (the period leading up to the Tibetan New Year), conditions of heightened security and surveillance were imposed on the capital, Lhasa. These were extended after the March anniversary, apparently as part of security preparations to prevent dissent during the run-up to the September 1995 celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the granting of regional autonomy status to central and western Tibet.
Impact of the Third Forums Policy Revisions
In July 1994, the Third Forum opened in Beijing. It was attended by Chinas top leaders, who gave high-level approval for a number of repressive policies in Tibet. These included:
curtailing the spread of religious activity, including increased control and surveillance of monasteries. The Third Forum resulted in the upgrading of security work undertaken by administrative bodies, beyond their existing duties as informants and political educators. The Religious Affairs Bureau, for example, created a new body of temple registration officials who are seen as potential enforcement officers for new regulations involving monasteries.
identifying Tibetan cadres and officials suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies, implying an eventual purge of Tibetan leaders. The formal recognition that the local Tibetan leadership is politically unreliable signaled a steady move away from the 1980s policy of making concessions to Tibetan cultural and economic concerns in return for political loyalty. The Third Forum called for an increase in the transfer of Chinese cadres and former soldiers to the TAR, and a China-wide propaganda campaign began in November 1994 to promote such transfer.
launching an unusually aggressive campaign against the Dalai Lama, Tibets exiled leader and main religious figure. The campaign included prohibitions on the possession of Dalai Lama photographs or other religious symbols by government employees. These orders appear to have been worded in a deliberately ambiguous way in order to increase their intimidatory effect while at the same time allowing the leadership to distance themselves from any negative response. The campaign reached a new peak in November 1995 with the announcement that the Dalai Lamas influence was to be eradicated not only from politics but also from religion, suggesting a plan to restructure Buddhist belief. In March 1996 a statement was published in the Chinese press questioning whether he is a reincarnated lama.
full endorsement of the policy of high-speed economic growth in the TAR. This policy, first implemented in this form in 1992, was framed in ideological terms that indicated an end to positive involvement for Tibetans in the economy. It is generally understood to have led to an increased influx of Chinese entrepreneurs and migrant workers and has become a source of discontent and unrest in the Tibetan community.
an initiative to increase the ideological content of school education and define socialist thinking as the objective of all education. The initiative was part of a patriotic education campaign launched in Tibet in September 1994 to attack support among Tibetan youths for the independence movement. The campaign was parallel to a similar drive being carried out in China.
Dispute over the Panchen Lama
In May 1995 the Dalai Lama announced that a six-year-old boy living in northern Tibet was the reincarnation of the tenth Panchen Lama, who at his death in January 1989 was the most significant of the Tibetan leaders to have remained in Tibet after the Dalai Lamas flight to India in 1959. The reaction of the Chinese authorities to this announcement led to the most serious political dispute with the Dalai Lama in two decades and showed the impact of the Third Forum policies on decision-making on Tibetan issues. The reaction included:
taking direct control of the selection of religious leaders and initiating an artificial schism within Tibetan Buddhism. This was done by forbidding Tibetans from recognizing the child identified by the Tibetan search team and the Dalai Lama. The unusual intensity of Chinese intervention in this case is evident from the fact that the selection process for the Panchen Lama was appropriated directly by the Communist Party rather than by an organ of the Chinese government.
dismissing the leaders of the main monastery involved in the dispute and replacing them with government appointees, despite a stated commitment to the principle of elected management in monasteries.
detaining two leading lamas and approximately sixty monks and lay people accused of opposing Chinas takeover of the Panchen Lama selection procedure.
setting up denunciation campaigns against the Dalai Lama and against the abbot in charge of the search team and putting pressure on Tibetan leaders and officials to join in the process of public denunciation.
exploiting the two children involved for ideological purposes. The child identified by the Dalai Lama and his family have been in some form of custody since May 1995, and in November both the child and his parents were publicly vilified by the Chinese government through the official media. The child appointed by the government has been required to appear in public and to make political statements supporting the state, despite the right to freedom from exploitation to which children are entitled in international law.
A Note on Methodology
The study is based on about 1,000 statements and submissions received by the Tibet Information Network (TIN) from Tibetans over the last five years which give information about the imprisonment of dissidents, mostly gathered from detailed interviews with escapees and former prisoners. The material has been organized into a database in which each submission has been checked and cross-checked against other sources. In addition, where available, official Chinese sources have been used, most of them not publicly available. The main work for this study was carried out over a two-year period by a TIN team consisting of an interviewer, a translator, a database collator, and two analysts, all with specialist knowledge of the area. Further cross-checking and editing took place at Human Rights Watch.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A NOTE ON THE TITLE
PART 1: THE POLITICAL CONTEXT
I. SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION
II. THE BACKGROUND TO SUPPRESSION IN TIBET, 1993-1995
III. EASING OF INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE AND NEW CHINESE ASSERTIVENESS
IV. THE THIRD FORUM
V. RESPONSE TO THE NEW POLICIES: A WINTER OF UNREST, 1994-1995
VI. MAY 1995: THE PANCHEN LAMA DISPUTE
VII. THE THIRD FORUM AND SECURITY POLICY
PART 2: EXAMPLES OF COERCIVE PRACTICES
I. POLITICAL IMPRISONMENT IN TIBET, 1994-1995
III. COMPULSORY LABOR
IV. RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
INDEX OF NAMES
Human Rights Watch March 1996 ISBN 1-56432-166-5
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