DHARAMSHALA: The US state department released its International Religious Freedom Report 2017 yesterday on 29 May. The report highlighted China’s continued denial of religious freedom in Tibet and the growing interference by government bodies and Chinese administrative authorities in the daily religious practices of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. (See full report here)
The report noted forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention without trial, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices. It also reported increased repression around politically sensitive events and religious anniversaries such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday in Tibet.
The report touched on the issue of Chinese interference in the age-old tradition of selecting Tibetan reincarnate lamas and tulkus. “The government continued to exercise its authority over the approval of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and the supervision of their religious education,” it stated, and added that ‘US officials have underscored that decisions on the reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama should be made solely faith leaders.’
The report also discussed the wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests, China’s demolition of Yarchen and Larung Gar Buddhist academies and the subsequent eviction of 11,500 monks and nuns. It also highlighted China’s subjection of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns to ‘patriotic re-education’, the official denigration of Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, societal discrimination encountered by ethnic Tibetans, travel restrictions imposed on Tibetan monks and nuns for pilgrimages, etc.
The report further stated that U.S. officials have repeatedly raised Tibetan religious freedom issues with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels, such as the Chinese government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama. It also talked about the issue of access to Tibet for American diplomats and officials. “While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, three U.S. visits occurred: one consular visit in July and visits by the U.S. Consul General in Chengdu in April and November,” it said.
The report stressed the US government’s repeated pressures on China to respect religious freedom for all faiths and to allow Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government. It urged the Chinese government to re examine the policies that threaten Tibet’s distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity.
The annual report was released by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The state department report describes the status of religious freedom in every country. It covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.