Country Scores

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7
Status: Not Free
Population: 5,300,000

2008 Key Developments: The year 2008 was marked by hundreds of protests across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and surrounding provinces, some of which turned violent; Tibetans rioted in Lhasa in March, attacking Chinese civilians and businesses and reportedly killing 19 people. The Chinese authorities responded with the most severe crackdown and militarization in the region since 1989, detaining thousands of monks, nuns, and lay civilians and sentencing dozens to long prison terms. Chinese soldiers were reported to have opened fire on civilian protesters, and some observers placed the estimated number of deaths at 218, though this was difficult to confirm as the authorities denied access for journalists to Tibetan regions.

Political Rights: Under Chinese rule, Tibetans lack the right to determine their political future or freely elect their own leaders. The Chinese Communist Party rules the TAR and Tibetan areas in nearby Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces through appointed officials, including some Tibetans. No Tibetan, however, has ever held the top post of TAR party secretary. Tibetans suffer the same lack of political freedom as their Han Chinese counterparts, while those seen to be advocating greater autonomy or political independence for the region risk harsh punishment and imprisonment. Corruption remains a serious problem in Tibet.

Civil Liberties: The Chinese authorities' already strict control over the flow of information into and out of Tibet tightened further following protests in March 2008. Foreign correspondents and tourists were expelled from the region, mobile-phone service was disrupted, and at least one Tibetan journalist was detained. Violations of religious freedom increased as hundreds of monks and nuns suspected of involvement in protests or of holding antigovernment views were taken into police custody, often following raids on monasteries by security forces. A large scale "patriotic education" campaign was expanded in April, with religious figures as well as students, government workers, and businesspeople forced to participate and sign denunciations of the Dalai Lama. The judicial system in Tibet remains abysmal, with most judges lacking any legal education, minimal access for defendants to legal representation, and trials involving "state security" held in secret. The number of political prisoners increased dramatically during the year following large-scale arrests throughout the spring, with many prisoners reportedly being subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. While many of those detained were released, hundreds remained in custody at year's end, and 30 people were sentenced in April to terms ranging from three years to life imprisonment in relation to antigovernment protests. Freedom of movement was severely curtailed, as an increased military presence and roadblocks restricted the ability of Tibetans to travel within the region, into other parts of China, or abroad.

↓ Trend arrow: Tibet received a downward trend arrow due to deterioration in freedom of movement caused by the increased military presence, roadblocks, and greater bureaucratic restrictions that followed antigovernment protests.

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