The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) Central Committee oversees Tibet policies. As in other predominantly minority areas of the PRC, ethnic Han CCP members held almost all top party, government, police, and military positions in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Central Committee Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The government’s respect for, and protection of, human rights in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained poor. Under the professed objectives of controlling border areas, maintaining social stability, and combating separatism, the government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement. The government routinely vilified the Dalai Lama and blamed the “Dalai [Lama] Clique” and “other outside forces” for instigating instability.
Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and torture. There was a perception among many Tibetans that authorities systemically targeted them for political repression, economic marginalization, and cultural assimilation, as well as educational and employment discrimination. The presence of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and other security forces remained at high levels in many communities on the Tibetan Plateau, particularly in the TAR. Repression was severe throughout the year but increased in the periods before and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Authorities detained individuals in Tibetan areas after they reportedly protested against government or business actions, or expressed their support for the Dalai Lama.
The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and some Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine fully the scope of human rights problems. The Chinese government severely restricted travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. Additionally, the Chinese government harassed or detained Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons abroad, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e-mail, or the internet. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, the Chinese government also denied multiple requests by foreign diplomats for permission to visit the TAR. Because of these restrictions, many of the incidents and cases mentioned in this report could not be verified independently.
Disciplinary procedures were opaque, and there was no publicly available information to indicate that security personnel or other authorities were punished for behavior defined under Chinese laws and regulations as abuses of power and authority.
Seven Tibetans reportedly self-immolated during the year, including laypersons and Tibetan Buddhist clergy, fewer than the 11 self-immolations reported in 2014 and significantly fewer than the 83 self-immolations reported in 2012. Non-Chinese media reports stated the declining number of reported self-immolations was due to tightened security by authorities and the collective punishment of self‑immolators’ associates.
Self-immolators reportedly viewed their acts as protests against the government’s political and religious oppression. The Chinese government implemented policies that punished friends, relatives, and associates of self‑immolators. The Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security’s joint 2012 “Opinion on Handling Cases of Self-Immolation in Tibetan Areas According to Law” criminalizes various activities associated with self‑immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.”
According to the opinion, the motive of self-immolators was “generally to split the country,” and the act constituted criminal behavior, since it posed a threat to public safety and public order. The opinion stated that “ringleaders” would be targeted for “major punishment.” In addition Chinese government officials in some Tibetan areas withheld public benefits from the family members of self-immolators and ordered friends and monastic personnel to refrain from participating in religious burial rites or mourning activities for self-immolators.
According to an August 2014 report by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), since 2012 at least 11 Tibetans were sentenced to prison terms or death on charges of “intentional homicide” for allegedly “aiding” or “inciting” others to self-immolate. The report also listed 98 Tibetans punished since 2010 due to alleged association with a self-immolation.
Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e‑mail, or the internet were subject to harassment or detention. During the year authorities in the TAR and many other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media further and to punish individuals for the “creating and spreading of rumors.” For example, according to an official media report, police in the TAR’s Mozhu Gongka (Maldro Gongkar) County arrested four persons in August on charges of electronically spreading rumors accusing the China Railway No.2 Construction Bureau, a government-owned enterprise, of polluting rivers and grasslands. In November, a court sentenced 18-year-old Gendun Phuntsok and 19-year-old Lobsang Kalsang, two Tibetan monks from Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture in Sichuan province (Kham), to four years and three-and-a-half-years in prison respectively. The teenage monks were arrested in March for carrying out two solo protests in the main street of the Ngaba town calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibetans.
Press and Media Freedoms: The government severely restricted travel by foreign journalists. Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and permission was rarely granted. Reporting from “Tibet proper remains off-limits to foreign journalists,” according to an annual report by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China. According to the same report, many foreign journalists were told also that reporting in Tibetan areas outside the TAR was “restricted or prohibited.”
Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press, and could hire and fire them on the basis of political reliability. For example, in March the TAR Bureau for Press, Radio, and Television released a job announcement seeking a number of media employees. One of the listed job requirements was to “be united with the regional Party Committee in political ideology and fighting against separatism.”
Violence and Harassment: In June the International Campaign for Tibet released a report that documented the cases of 11 Tibetan writers and intellectuals and 10 Tibetan singers who have faced imprisonment and repression. Authorities detained the Tibetan writer Lomik in April on unknown charges after he wrote and spoke about political repression and social problems on the Tibetan Plateau.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic journalists did not report on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment. In August authorities shut down a website called Choemei, which shared news, music, and literature in the Tibetan language. According to an RFA report, authorities ordered the owner of the website to register the website with the Department of Communications.
The government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America and RFA’s Tibetan- and Chinese-language services in some Tibetan areas, as well as the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway. According to a June RFA report, authorities in Qinghai Province confiscated or destroyed “illegal” satellite dishes.
National Security: In July China enacted a new National Security Law that includes provisions regarding the management of ethnic minorities and religion. China frequently blamed “hostile foreign forces” for creating instability in Tibetan areas and cited the need to protect “national security” and “fight against separatism” as justifications for its policies, including censorship policies, in Tibetan areas.
The central government’s emphasis on security and stability in Tibetan areas was reflected in the policy decisions made in the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August, as reported by official media. A statement following a July 30 Politburo meeting held that “China must uphold the Party’s guidelines for governing Tibet, focusing on safeguarding national unification and ethnic unity [and that] China must unswervingly struggle against splittism.”
Authorities curtailed cell phone and internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during times of unrest and politically sensitive periods, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. Authorities closely monitored the internet throughout Tibetan areas. Reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content were widespread. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information.
Throughout the year authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official policy in Tibetan areas. Well organized computer hacking attacks originating from China harassed Tibet activists and organizations outside China.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion. Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials, as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences, and academic or cultural exchanges. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.
In August senior officials of the TAR Academy of Social Science encouraged scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” and held a conference to “improve” scholars’ “political ideology” and “fight against separatists.”
Policies promoting planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expansion of the tourism industry, forced resettlement of nomads and farmers, and the weakening of both Tibetan-language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs.
Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and in many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin, which is widely spoken, is used for most official communications, and is the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. Private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval to print in the Tibetan language.
In January officials in Yushu TAP in Qinghai Province shut down a workshop that a Buddhist monastery had held for local children for 24 years consecutively. Tibetan language was among the subjects of the workshop. In November 2014, students at the Tibetan Language Middle School in Ruo-ergai (Dzoege) county in Sichuan Province reportedly protested against a proposed change from Tibetan to Mandarin Chinese as the language of instruction.
China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law states that “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, and high school students had limited access to Tibetan-language instruction and textbooks.
China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Han students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan-language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.
Freedom of Movement
Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement of Tibetans, however, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.
In-country Movement: Freedom of movement for all Tibetans, but particularly for monks and nuns, remained severely restricted throughout the TAR, as well as in other Tibetan areas. The PAP and local Public Security Bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.
Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR, but also obstructed land-based travel to India through Nepal. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification card, stay in designated hotels, and notify authorities of their plans on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to Han Chinese visitors to the TAR.
Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR.
Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new, or renewing existing, passports. A July report by Human Rights Watch found that Tibetans and other minorities must provide far more extensive documentation than other Chinese citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. For Tibetans the passport application process can take years and frequently ends in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes or promising not to travel to India. Tibetans continued to encounter substantial difficulties and obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Contacts also reported instances of local authorities revoking the passports of individuals who had traveled to India.
Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. In 2015, 89 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, on route to permanent settlement in India. This compared to 80 in 2014, down from 171 in 2013 and 242 in 2012.
The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. For example, in May, RFA reported that the Chengdu Municipal Tourism Office forbade travel agents to sell package overseas tours to Tibetans between May 20 and July 15, the period around the Dalai Lama’s July 6 birthday.
The government regulated travel by foreigners to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity in the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors must obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide must accompany foreign tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road.
In what has become an annual practice, authorities banned many foreign tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Foreign tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR, although the government never issued publicly available formal prohibitions on such travel. The decline in the number of foreign tourists to the TAR was more than offset by an increase in domestic ethnic Han visitors to the TAR. Unlike foreign tourists, ethnic Han tourists do not need special permits to visit the TAR.
Officials continued to tightly restrict the access of foreign diplomats and journalists to the TAR. Foreign officials were able to travel to the TAR only with the permission of the TAR Foreign Affairs Office, and even then only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by that office. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see section on Freedom of Speech and Press).