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China: Crackdown on Tibetan social groups

Lamas are seen at Riwoqe Monastery in Qamdo, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, 5 November 2017
Lamas are seen at Riwoqe Monastery in Qamdo, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, 5 November 2017

Xinhua/Liu Dongjun via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 29 July 2018.

Chinese authorities are using an ostensible anti-mafia campaign to target suspected political dissidents and suppress civil society initiatives in Tibetan areas, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The authorities are now treating even traditional forms of social action, including local mediation of community or family disputes by lamas or other traditional authority figures, as illegal.

The 101-page report, 'Illegal Organizations': China's Crackdown on Tibetan Social Groups, details efforts by the Chinese Communist Party at the local level to eliminate the remaining influence of lamas and traditional leaders within Tibetan communities. The report features rare in-depth interviews, state media cartoons depicting the new restrictions, and cases of Tibetans arbitrarily detained for their involvement in community activities.

"Police and Chinese Communist Party cadres already had virtually unlimited power over the daily lives of Tibetans," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "But now authorities can prosecute people for simply gathering for any purpose not directly mandated or approved by the state."

In February 2018, the Tibet Autonomous Region Public Security Bureau published a list of newly defined forms of "organized crime" in a circular - the first set of such prohibitions to be announced at the provincial level. The now-banned activities include any initiatives for the promotion of local language and culture, and protection of the local environment. The document deems those activities to be expressions of support for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and therefore subversive. Similarly, traditional forms of social organization, such as the mediation of community and family disputes and community welfare funds, are characterized as organized crime.

Beijing repeatedly claims that Tibetans have autonomy and their rights as an ethnic minority are respected, but the realities show only increasing repression of Tibetans' daily lives and basic human rights.
Sophie Richardson, China director

Human Rights Watch found that the criminalization of innocuous forms of social activism has been official policy in some Tibetan areas since 2012. That policy accounts for numerous detentions and prosecutions of community activists, and closures of local schools and other self-help groups during this period. Local regulations from Chamdo Municipality in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Malho Prefecture in Qinghai Province ban any "group with more than five members" formed without official permission, and declare any popular initiative for the promotion of Tibetan language, culture, and religion, or for protection of local environment and wildlife, to be agitation for Tibetan independence and collusion with "foreign anti-China forces."

As a United Nations member state, China has affirmed acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which promotes the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, expression, and to participate in the cultural life of the community. These new regulations are the latest evidence that China is systematically violating these rights in Tibetan areas, Human Rights Watch said. The Chinese government, Party officials, and state security forces should immediately end their unjustified interventions into the creation and conduct of independent social associations in Tibetan communities.

Concerned governments and UN bodies should publicly call on China's leaders to reconcile the laws and policies restricting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association with their claims to respect the rule of law. These concerns should also be expressed at China's review under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination at the UN in August 2018.

"Beijing repeatedly claims that Tibetans have autonomy and their rights as an ethnic minority are respected," Richardson said. "But the realities show only increasing repression of Tibetans' daily lives and basic human rights."

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