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UN experts warn of severe restrictions on Tibetan monasteries in China

Qiqushan-Temple, Sichuan, China.
Qiqushan-Temple, Sichuan, China.

UN experts warn of severe restrictions on Tibetan monasteries in China

A group of United Nations experts today voiced grave concern over reports of severe human rights restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in China’s Sichuan province, including intimidation, security raids and surveillance of the sites and religious activities.

“Such restrictive measures not only curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief, but further exacerbate the existing tensions, and are counterproductive,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Heavy security measures have been reported in and around the area of the Tibetan Buddhist Kirti monastery, which houses some 2,500 monks, and other monasteries in Aba county, an area of the south-western Chinese province of Sichuan with many ethnic Tibetans.

The measures include security raids and surveillance within monasteries, with police presence inside and outside monasteries to monitor religious activities, according to a news release issued by the experts.

The recent deployment of security forces is reported to include officers in riot gear, soldiers with automatic rifles, and trucks and armed personnel on the streets leading to the monastery.

“Intimidation of the lay and monastic community must be avoided, and the right of members of the monastic community, and the wider community to freely practice their religion, should be fully respected and guaranteed by the Chinese Government,” stressed Mr. Bielefeldt.

The measures have resulted in increased tensions between the Chinese authorities and members of the monastic community, particularly since March, a period which has seen a rise in protests by both lay persons and members of the monastic community calling for religious freedom.

Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, voiced his “deep concern about allegations of restrictions to Internet access and mobile messaging services within Aba county, as well as journalists’ lack of access to the region.”

He stated that rather than taking such measures, the Government should instead “listen to and address the legitimate grievances of the monastic community.”

The severe restrictions on freedoms of religion, expression and association, have led to hundreds of monks reportedly leaving the monastery, with many being arrested or subjected to enforced disappearance.

“Any enforced disappearance is unacceptable and such practices are in violation of international law,” said the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Jeremy Sarkin.

He also voiced concern that a proposed revision to the Chinese criminal procedure law will legalize enforced disappearances in the country.

“This heinous practice is not permitted under any circumstances. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify an enforced disappearance.”

Meanwhile, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention spoke out about the recurring practice of arbitrary arrests and detention of monks in the area of Sichuan province.

“No individual can be arrested on the ground of peacefully exercising the rights and freedoms guaranteed under international human rights law,” stressed El Hadji Malick Sow, the Group’s Chair-Rapporteur.

The Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, also voiced their concerns regarding the measures imposed by the Chinese authorities.

UN human rights experts work in an independent and unpaid capacity, and report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.