1998 Scores

Status: Not Free
Freedom Rating: 7.0
Civil Liberties: 7
Political Rights: 7


Prior to the Chinese invasion in 1949, Tibet had been a sovereign state for the better part of 2,000 years, coming under modest foreign influence only during brief periods in the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries. China invaded Tibet with 100,000 troops in late 1949 and in 1951 formally annexed the country.

In 1959, popular uprisings against Chinese rule culminated in mass pro-independence uprisings in Lhasa, the capital. Over the next several months, China crushed the uprisings, killing an estimated 87,000 Tibetans in the Lhasa region alone. The Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled to Dharamsala, India with 80,000 supporters.

In 1960, the International Commission of Jurists called the Chinese occupation genocidal and ruled that prior to the 1949 invasion, Tibet had possessed all the attributes of statehood as defined under international law. In 1965, China created a Tibet Autonomous Region encompassing only half the territory of pre-invasion Tibet. The rest of Tibet had, since 1950, been incorporated into four southwestern Chinese provinces. During the Cultural Revolution, China imprisoned thousands of monks and nuns, destroyed all but 11 of Tibet's 6,200 monasteries, and burned sacred texts in an effort to obliterate Tibetan culture. By the late 1970s, 1.2 million Tibetans had died as a result of the occupation.

Between 1987 and 1990 Chinese soldiers forcibly broke up peaceful demonstrations throughout Tibet, killing hundreds and arresting thousands more. In May 1995, the Dalai Lama identified six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the eleventh reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second highest religious figure. Chinese authorities detained the child and his family, and orchestrated the selection of another six-year-old boy as the eleventh Panchen Lama. Since the Panchen Lama identifies the reincarnate Dalai Lama, Beijing will be able to control the identification of the fifteenth Dalai Lama.

On May 1 and May 4, 1998, Tibetans in Drapchi prison in Lhasa held peaceful protests apparently motivated by the visit of a European Union delegation scheduled for May 4. According to the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN), in the ensuing weeks a crackdown in the prison killed at least six nuns, four monks, and a layperson. During the year, authorities strengthened their already harsh campaign to erode support among Tibetans for the Dalai Lama and his exile government, and for independence from China. In November, TIN reported that authorities were now searching the homes of Tibetan officials in Lhasa for shrines and religious objects, and had renewed a requirement for Tibetan members of the Chinese Communist Party to withdraw their children from exile schools in India.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Tibetans lack the right to self-determination and cannot change their government democratically. In a 1997 report, the International Commission of Jurists called for a United Nations supervised referendum on self-determination. China appoints compliant Tibetan officials to some largely ceremonial posts to provide a veneer of self-rule, but in reality controls all major policy decisions and sharply restricts basic rights and liberties. In 1997, TIN reported that only 44 percent of regional or higher level government department heads are Tibetan, and 62 of 72 county-level deputy heads are Chinese, who wield actual power behind Tibetan figureheads. Chinese officials also dominate the military and police.

Arrests of political dissidents and torture in prisons have increased since July 1994, when the Chinese government decided at a high level Third Work Forum on Tibet in Beijing to tighten political control over the region. In 1997, the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said there were 1,216 known Tibetan political prisoners, many of them monks and nuns, jailed for displaying Tibetan flags or symbols of cultural identity, for holding peaceful demonstrations, possessing a photograph of the Dalai Lama, forming prisoner lists, making political posters, and other non-violent activities. In 1997, the Boston-based Physicans for Human Rights reported that of 258 Tibetan refugees surveyed in Dharamsala in 1996, 15 percent said they had been tortured in Tibet, including 94 percent of those who had been detained for political activities. Security forces routinely rape imprisoned nuns. Political prisoners are reportedly subjected to forced labor.

In 1996, Chinese-organized "re-education" teams began conducting forcible political indoctrination sessions in Lhasa's three main monasteries and several smaller ones aimed at discrediting the Dalai Lama and his selection of the reincarnate Panchen Lama. In October 1997, the New York-based Human Rights Watch/Asia reported that the refusal of monks and nuns to renounce their beliefs had resulted in more than 150 arrests, two known deaths, and 1,300 expulsions in a campaign that had reached 900 monasteries and nunneries by September 1997. Authorities replaced many purged monks and nuns with pro-China counterparts.

Authorities continued to monitor and control monasteries and nunneries through state-organized "management committees." In 1995, authorities placed a near total moratorium on the building of new monasteries and nunneries, tightened limits on the number of monks and nuns permitted in monasteries, and limited the total number of clerics permitted in Tibet. Authorities have closed numerous monasteries and nunneries, demolished several others, and forced some senior monks to retire. Officials also generally prevent religious figures from giving large public teachings, and restrict the travel of some politically active monks. In 1996, China banned all photographs of the Dalai Lama from monasteries and residences, extending a 1994 ban on the sale of the Dalai Lama's photograph and displaying such photographs in state offices.

Although Beijing's draconian family planning policy ostensibly does not extend to Tibetans and other minorities, the one-child rule is generally enforced in Tibet. Authorities often use the threat of fines to coerce women into undergoing abortions and sterilizations.

Beijing's Sinification policy includes granting employment, education, healthcare, and housing incentives to lure ethnic Chinese into migrating to Tibet. This has altered the demographic composition of the region, displaced Tibetan businesses, reduced employment opportunities for Tibetans, and further marginalized Tibetan cultural identity. Since 1992, Beijing has expanded Tibet's road and air links with China, further facilitating the mass settlement of Han Chinese into Tibet.

Beijing's attempts to indoctrinate Tibetan primary and middle school students include daily ceremonies to raise the Chinese flag and sing the Chinese national anthem. Schools and universities are increasingly using Mandarin as well as Tibetan as the language of instruction. Tibetans are whipsawed between seeing their cultural autonomy undermined by the increasing use of Mandarin, and the need to learn Mandarin to gain preferences in government and factory employment as well as university admission.

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