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Human rights practices in Tibet - 2003
U.S. Department of State
3/29/2004

TIBET

The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People's Republic of China. The Department of State follows these designations in its reporting. The preservation and development of Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage and the protection of its people's fundamental human rights continue to be of concern.

Respect for Integrity of the Person

The Government's human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor, although some positive developments continued. The Government permitted a second visit to the country by the Dalai Lama's representatives and provided reporters and foreign officials with somewhat greater access to the TAR. The Government controlled information about all Tibetan areas, and in addition, strictly controlled access to the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including execution without due process, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their political or religious views. Deaths of at least 41 Tibetan political prisoners since 1989 can be attributed to severe abuse under detention; at least 20 of those prisoners had been in Lhasa's TAR Prison (also known as Drapchi Prison). The overall level of repression of religious freedom in the TAR, while somewhat less oppressive for lay followers than in previous years, remained high. Conditions generally were less restrictive in Tibetan areas outside of the TAR. Individuals accused of political activism faced ongoing harassment during the year. There were reports of imprisonment and abuse of some nuns and monks accused of political activism. Security was intensified during sensitive anniversaries and festival days in some areas, while activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent, including celebration of some religious festivals, were suppressed. There were reports of small-scale political protests in a number of Tibetan areas.

On January 26, Tibetan Lobsang Dondrub was executed for alleged involvement in a series of bombings in Sichuan Province in 2002. The death sentence of Buddhist teacher Tenzin Deleg on the same charges was deferred for 2 years. The trials of the two men were closed to the public on "state secrets" grounds, and they were denied due process, including access to adequate representation. Lobsang Dondrub's execution the same day he lost his appeal to the Sichuan Provincial Higher People's Court, as well as the failure of the national-level Supreme People's Court to review the case as promised to foreign officials, raised serious concerns in the international community. In March, two Tibetans were reportedly arrested for providing information to foreign individuals about the investigation of the 2002 bombings in Sichuan Province for which Lobsang Dondrub and Tenzin Deleg received death sentences. In April, four individuals arrested with Tenzin Deleg were reportedly released. In July, two more individuals, Tsering Dondrub and Tashi Phuntsog, were reported by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to have been released, but officials denied that such a release took place. Their whereabouts remained uncertain at year's end.

In January, monks Kalsang Dondrub and Ngawang Dondrub were sentenced in Qinghai Province on charges of "endangering state security" for nonviolent political activities.

On April 11, Kunchok Choephel Labrang and Jigme Jamtruk, two monks from Labrang Tashikyil Monastery in Kanlho Prefecture, Gansu Province, were arrested for possessing booklets containing speeches of the Dalai Lama, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Jigme Jamtruk was reportedly released on bail after 13 days' detention; the whereabouts of Kunchok Choephel Labrang remained unknown at year's end.

On June 27, Yeshi Gyatso, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and Tibet University Student Dawa Tashi were detained on charges of "splitting the motherland, undermining unity of nationalities, and violating the constitution." Government officials stated that Dawa Tashi "confessed" and was released. Yeshe Gyatso subsequently was sentenced to 6 years' imprisonment, but was released in November in ill health.

In August, the Government announced that two monks, Jamphel Jangchub and Ngawang Oezer, imprisoned at Lhasa's TAR Prison for joining a pro-independence group in Drepung Monastery in the 1980s, received sentence reductions of 3 and 2 years respectively.

On August 29, five monks and an unidentified lay artist received sentences of 1 to 12 years' imprisonment for alleged separatist activities, including painting a Tibetan national flag, possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama, and distributing materials calling for Tibetan independence. The monks were Zoepa, Tsogphel, Sherab Dargye (Sherdar), Oezer, and Migyur, all from Khangmar Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture, Sichuan Province.

On October 2, Nyima Dragpa, a monk from Nyatso Monastery, died in custody, allegedly from injuries sustained during severe beatings.

Many political prisoners remained in detention at year's end, including Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidrol, who was serving a long prison term for political offenses; Sonam Phuntsog, a Buddhist teacher in Kardze County, Sichuan Province, arrested in 1999 after leading a protest; Lhasa orphanage owners Jigme Tenzin and Nyima Choedron, convicted in 2002 of "espionage and endangering state security"; and approximately 10 persons detained in October 2002 in Kardze Town, Sichuan Province, in connection with long-life ceremonies for the Dalai Lama sponsored by foreign Tibetan Buddhists. The whereabouts of two other nuns, Jangchub Drolma and Chogdrub Drolma, remained unknown at year's end. They previously were confirmed to be incarcerated in Drapchi Prison.

Chadrel Rinpoche, released in January 2002 after 6 years and 6 months in prison for leaking information about the selection of the Panchen Lama, was reportedly still under house arrest near Lhasa.

The lack of independent access to prisoners and prisons made it difficult to ascertain the number of Tibetan political prisoners or to assess the extent and severity of abuses. The Tibet Information Network (TIN) estimated that approximately 150 Tibetans were imprisoned on political grounds, 75 percent of whom were monks or nuns. Approximately 60 political prisoners, most serving sentences for the now-repealed crime of counterrevolution, remained in TAR Prison in Lhasa. TIN's analysis indicated that the majority of Tibetan political prisoners were incarcerated in Lhasa and western Sichuan Province. While political imprisonment has declined in the TAR since its peak in 1996, since 1999 there has been an upsurge of detentions in certain areas of Sichuan Province, particularly in Kardze Prefecture.

There were credible reports that prisoners continued to be mistreated. For example, Tibetans repatriated to China from Nepal in May reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and were forced to perform heavy physical labor. Their family members also were pressured for bribes to secure their release. Prisoners were subjected routinely to "political investigation" sessions and were punished if deemed to be insufficiently loyal to the state. Unrepentant political prisoners at the TAR Prison were sent to "isolation cells" for 6 months to 1 year to "break their spirit."

Legal safeguards for Tibetans detained or imprisoned were the same as those in the rest of China and were inadequate in both design and implementation. Most judges had little or no legal training. Authorities worked to address this problem through increased legal education opportunities. Since opening the first legal assistance center in the TAR in 2001, the Government claims clients involved in 149 cases, including 101 criminal cases, have received assistance. However, for most persons accused of political crimes, trials were cursory and were closed if issues of state security were involved. Under Chinese law, maximum prison sentences for crimes such as "endangering state security" and "splitting the country" were 15 years for each count, not to exceed 20 years in total. Such cases mainly concerned actions perceived to be in support of Tibetan independence, and activities did not have to be violent to be illegal or to draw a heavy sentence.

Family planning policies permitted Tibetans, like members of other minority groups, to have more children than Han Chinese. Urban Tibetans, including Communist Party members, were generally permitted to have two children. Rural Tibetans were encouraged, but not required, to limit births to three children. These regulations were not strictly enforced.

The Government regulated foreign travel to the TAR, requiring travelers to purchase tours through government-approved tourist agencies for entry to the TAR, and to secure permits for travel to some regions within the TAR. Official visits to the TAR were supervised closely and afforded delegation members very few opportunities to meet local persons not previously approved by the local authorities. Travel by foreigners and foreign NGO staff in the TAR was closely monitored, although some foreign NGOs reported fewer restrictions on their travel than in previous years.

Some Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining passports, particularly in rural areas. The Government placed restrictions on the movement of Tibetans during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. There were reports of arbitrary detention of persons, particularly monks, returning to China from Nepal. Detentions generally lasted for several months, although in most cases no formal charges were brought.

On May 31, the Government successfully pressured the Government of Nepal to repatriate to China 18 Tibetans, including several minors, who had crossed into Nepal from China apparently hoping to transit Nepal to India. Contrary to established practice, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kathmandu was denied access to the group. The 18 Tibetans were forced onto a bus and driven back across the border into China, where they were detained, first at a border post and later at a prison in Shigatse. NGO reports indicated that up to seven individuals remained in detention until at least November. The detainees reportedly suffered severe torture, and the monks in the group were subjected to more beatings than the others. Most of the detainees also were pressured for bribes. Chinese officials maintained that 14 individuals were released shortly after their return to China. While two remained at the border post for medical reasons and two were detained for a time on suspicion of criminal behavior, officials stated that no criminal charges were filed and all of the individuals were released by year's end. According to NGO reports, approximately 400-500 Tibetans apprehended at border crossings reportedly were held at the "Tibet's New Reception Center" prison in Shigatse at year's end.

Forced labor reportedly was used in some prisons, detention centers, reeducation-through-labor facilities, and at work sites where prisoners were used as workers. Chinese law states that prisoners may be required to work up to 12 hours per day, with 1 rest day every 2 weeks, but these regulations often were not enforced. Prisoners at many sites received some remuneration and could earn sentence reductions by meeting or exceeding work quotas. At TAR Prison in Lhasa, male prisoners reportedly worked in vegetable fields and in factories. Female prisoners cleaned toilets and also were involved in tailoring, cleaning, or spinning and sorting wool to be used in the production of carpets and sweaters.

Freedom of Religion

In the TAR, the overall level of religious repression, while less oppressive for lay followers than in the past, remained high. The Government maintained tight controls on many monasteries and on monks and nuns. Although authorities permitted some traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent, such as religious activities perceived as advocating Tibetan independence or any form of separatism (which the Government describes as "splittist"). Security was intensified during the Dalai Lama's birthday, sensitive anniversaries, and festival days in the TAR and in some other Tibetan areas as well. Tibetan Buddhists in many areas outside the TAR had fewer restrictions on their freedom to practice their faith.

Most abbots and monks in Tibetan areas outside the TAR reported that they had greater freedom to worship, to conduct religious training, and to manage the affairs of their monasteries than their coreligionists within the TAR; however, restrictions remained. There were reports that some monks who had contacts while abroad with the Tibetan "government-in-exile" in India were prevented from returning to their home monasteries.

In 2002 and again during the year, the Government extended invitations to emissaries of the Dalai Lama to visit Tibetan and other areas of China. In September 2002, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama's representatives to the United States and Europe respectively, traveled to Beijing, Lhasa, and other cities where they met with a number of government officials. These were the first formal contacts between the Dalai Lama's representatives and the Government since 1993. They made a second trip to China in June 2003 to meet with Chinese officials and visited Shanghai, Beijing, and Tibetan areas in Yunnan Province. Additionally, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's elder brother, visited in July 2002, making his first trip to the TAR since leaving in 1959. The Government asserted that the door to dialogue and negotiation was open, provided that the Dalai Lama publicly affirm that Tibetan areas and Taiwan are inseparable parts of China. In September, during a visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, the Government resumed its practice of harshly criticizing what it perceived as the Dalai Lama's political activities and his leadership of a government-in-exile.

Government officials maintained that possessing or displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama is not illegal, but pictures of the Dalai Lama were not openly displayed in major monasteries. Pictures could not be purchased openly in the TAR, and possession of such pictures has triggered arrests in the past; therefore, Tibetans in the TAR were extremely cautious about displaying them. Diplomatic observers saw pictures of a number of Tibetan religious figures, including the Dalai Lama, openly displayed in Tibetan areas outside the TAR. However, in the months following an August incident in which unknown individuals hung the banned Tibetan national flag from a radio tower, private displays of Dalai Lama pictures were confiscated in urban areas of two Sichuan counties.

Since the early 1990s, an average of 2,500 Tibetans have entered Nepal each year seeking refugee status to escape conditions in Tibet. The UNHCR reported that 2,248 Tibetans presented themselves at the UNHCR office in Nepal during the year, of whom 1,815 were found to be "of concern" and provided with basic assistance; the remaining 433 departed for India without being registered or processed by the UNHCR. In September, TAR Public Security Bureau officials told a visiting foreign delegation that 1,000 residents of the TAR receive passports each year, and that residents make 2,000-3,000 trips abroad each year. However, some Tibetans, particularly those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties in obtaining passports. Due in part to such difficulties and in part to the difficulty many Chinese citizens of Tibetan ethnicity encountered obtaining entry visas for India, it was difficult for Tibetans to travel to India for religious purposes. Nevertheless, many Tibetans, including monks and nuns, visited India via third countries and returned to China after temporary stays. Returned exiles were compelled to avoid discussing sensitive political issues.

Chinese officials stated that the TAR has 46,380 Buddhist monks and nuns and 1,787 monasteries, temples, and religious sites. Officials have cited almost identical figures since 1996, although the numbers of monks and nuns dropped at many sites as a result of the mid-1990s "patriotic education" campaign and the expulsion from monasteries and nunneries of many monks and nuns who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama or who were found to be "politically unqualified." These numbers represent only the TAR, where the number of monks and nuns was very strictly controlled; over 150,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns lived in Tibetan areas outside the TAR, according to informed estimates.

The Government continued to oversee the daily operations of major monasteries. The Government, which did not contribute to the monasteries' operating funds, retained management control of monasteries through the Democratic Management Committees (DMCs) and local religious affairs bureaus. Regulations restricted leadership of many DMCs to "patriotic and devoted" monks and nuns, and specified that the Government must approve all members of the committees. At some monasteries, government officials also sat on the committees.

In recent years, DMCs at several large monasteries began to use funds generated by the sales of entrance tickets or donated by pilgrims for purposes other than the support of monks engaged in full-time religious study. As a result, some "scholar monks" who had formerly been fully supported had to engage in income-generating activities. Some experts were concerned that, as a result, fewer monks will be qualified to serve as teachers in the future. The erosion of the quality of religious teaching in the TAR and other Tibetan areas continued to be a focus of concern. The quality and availability of high-level religious teachers in the TAR and other Tibetan areas was inadequate; many teachers were in exile, older teachers were not being replaced, and those remaining in Tibetan areas outside the TAR had difficulty securing permission to teach in the TAR.

In addition, in many places, particularly in the TAR, the Government continued to discourage the proliferation of monasteries, which it contended were a drain on local resources and a conduit for political infiltration by the Tibetan exile community.

The Government stated that there were no limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, and that each monastery's DMC decided independently how many monks the monastery could support. However, many of these committees are government-controlled, and in practice, the Government imposed strict limits on the number of monks in many major monasteries, particularly in the TAR. The Government had the right to disapprove any individual's application to take up religious orders; however, these restrictions were not uniformly enforced. In some areas, it is against regulations to join a monastery before the age of 18, but boys as young as 11 continued to enter some monasteries.

Government officials stated that the "patriotic education" campaign, which began in 1996, had ended prior to the reporting period. Officials acknowledged, however, that monks and nuns continued to undergo mandatory political education or "patriotic education" on a regular basis at their religious sites. Training sessions were aimed at enforcing compliance with government regulations, and either cowing or weeding out monks and nuns who refused to follow Party directives and who remained sympathetic to the Dalai Lama. Monks and nuns were often required to demonstrate their patriotism by signing a declaration by which they agreed to reject independence for Tibet; reject Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama; reject and denounce the Dalai Lama; recognize the unity of China and Tibet; and vow not to listen to the Voice of America or Radio Free Asia. During the patriotic education campaign, noncompliant monks and nuns were expelled from religious sites, while others chose to depart rather than denounce the Dalai Lama. Because of these efforts to control the Buddhist clergy and monasteries, anti-government sentiment remained strong.

On May 27, authorities reportedly detained and released monks Tamding, Palzin, and Shongdu, and lay driver Ngodup for their involvement in a December 2002 protest against building demolitions at the Serthar Buddhist Study Institute, also known as the Larung Gar monastic encampment, located in Sichuan Province's Kardze Prefecture. Since demolishing buildings and expelling several thousand monks and nuns in 2001, authorities continued to exercise tight control over the community. Authorities allowed only approximately 1,000 monks and nuns to remain at the site, strictly controlled the number of Han Chinese practitioners, and refused permits for further construction or maintenance of the facility. The Government maintained that the facility, which housed the largest concentration of monks and nuns in the country, was reduced in size for sanitation and hygiene reasons. Foreign observers believed that the authorities acted against the Institute because of its size and the influence of its charismatic founder, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog.

Most Tibetans practiced Buddhism to some degree. This held true for many Tibetan government officials and Communist Party members. In the TAR alone, some 615 Tibetan Buddhist religious figures held positions in local People's Congresses and committees of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. However, the Government continued to insist that Communist Party members and senior government employees adhere to the Party's code of atheism, and routine political training for government cadres continued to promote atheism. Authorities also continued to pressure public sector employees, through political training and threats of termination, to demonstrate their loyalty to the State and refrain from actions that could be construed as lending explicit or tacit support to the Dalai Lama. Public sector employees in the TAR also reportedly were pressured not to send their children to India to be educated.

A large percentage of the members of the religious affairs bureaus were non-Tibetans, and all were members of the Communist Party.

On July 6, Tibetans were prohibited from actively celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday. However, celebrations of major religious festivals such as Monlam, Sagadawa, and the Drepung Shodon were marked by a somewhat more open atmosphere and a diminished security presence.

In September, two attendants of the Karmapa Lama detained in 2002 were released. The Karmapa Lama, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism's Karma Kagyu school and one of the most influential religious figures of Tibetan Buddhism, secretly left the TAR for India in December 1999. In several public statements, the Karmapa Lama asserted that he left because of controls on his movements and the Government's refusal to allow him to go to India to be trained by his spiritual mentors or to allow his mentors to come to him. During the year, authorities continued to restrict access to Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapa Lama, and TIN reported that no new monks were being permitted to enter the monastery.

Since the Karmapa Lama left the TAR in 1999, the authorities have increased efforts to exert control over the process for finding and educating reincarnate lamas. The Government approved the seventh reincarnation of Reting Rinpoche in January 2000, but many of the monks at Reting Monastery reportedly did not accept the child as Reting Rinpoche because the Dalai Lama did not recognize his selection. Another young reincarnate lama, Pawo Rinpoche, who was recognized by the Karmapa Lama in 1994, lived under strict government supervision at Nenang Monastery. NGOs reported that he was denied access to his religious tutors and required to attend a regular Chinese school. During the year, foreign delegations were refused permission to visit Nenang Monastery.

The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism's second most prominent figure, after the Dalai Lama. The Government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy it selected in 1995, is the Panchen Lama's 11th reincarnation. Gyaltsen Norbu made his second highly orchestrated visit to Tibetan areas in August, and his public appearances were marked by a heavy security presence. The Government refused to recognize the Dalai Lama's choice of another boy, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, who first disappeared in 1995, when he was 6 years old, and it tightly controlled all aspects of the "official" Panchen Lama's life. On August 5, the Government announced that Gendun Choekyi Nyima is "now a student and is studying well," but continued to ban pictures of the boy and refused all requests from the international community for access to confirm his whereabouts and well-being. The vast majority of Tibetan Buddhists continued to recognize Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama. The Communist Party urged its members to support the "official" Panchen Lama, and government authorities at both the regional and city levels had pictures of the boy printed for use in public and private religious displays; however, very few photographs of him were on display. Instead, more prominently displayed were pictures of the 10th Panchen Lama, which some foreign observers interpreted as a rejection of Gyaltsen Norbu.

The Government stated that since 1949 it had contributed $72.64 million (RMB 600 million) toward the restoration of historical buildings in the TAR, including over 1,400 Tibetan Buddhist sites which were destroyed before and during the Cultural Revolution. The Government has carried out similar restoration efforts in Tibetan areas outside the TAR, although aggregate figures are not known. However, many hundreds of monasteries were never restored, and others remained in partial ruins. Government funding of restoration efforts ostensibly was done to support the practice of religion, but also was done in part to promote the development of tourism. Many recent restoration efforts were funded privately, although a few religious sites also received government support for reconstruction projects.

Economic Development and Protection of Cultural Heritage

According to China's 2000 census, the population of Tibetans in the TAR was 2,427,168. The population of Tibetans in autonomous prefectures and counties outside the TAR was 2,927,372. The TAR is one of China's poorest regions, and ethnic Tibetans are one of the poorest groups. The Central Government and other provinces of China heavily subsidized the TAR economy, which, according to official government statistics, grew by an average annual rate of over 10 percent for the last decade. Over 90 percent of the TAR's budget came from outside sources, and residents of the TAR benefited from a wide variety of favorable economic and tax policies. Tibetan autonomous areas outside the TAR benefited to varying degrees from similar favorable policies. Government development policies helped raise the living standards of most Tibetans, particularly by providing better transportation and communications facilities. However, while overall standards of living have risen, Tibetans' real incomes remained well below those of persons in other parts of the country, and Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from the Government's development policies in Tibetan areas. Marriage and family planning policies, and, to a lesser extent, university admissions and government employment policies, are less restrictive for Tibetans as one of China's 55 minority ethnic groups. According to official government statistics, 79.4 percent of all government employees in the TAR were Tibetans. Nevertheless, many positions of political authority were held by Han Chinese, and most key decisions in the TAR were made by Han. A similar situation pertained in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

The Dalai Lama, Tibetan experts, and other observers expressed concern that development projects and other Central Government policies initiated in 1994 and reemphasized and expanded at the "Fourth Tibet Work Conference" in 2001, including the Qinghai-Tibet railroad, would continue to promote a considerable influx of Han, Hui, and other ethnic groups into the TAR. They feared that the TAR's traditional culture and Tibetan demographic dominance would be overwhelmed by such migration.

Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment for some urban occupations, and claimed Han were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work. For example, of the 38,000 persons working on the Qinghai-Tibet railroad, only 6,000 were Tibetan. Some Tibetans reported that it was more difficult for Tibetans than Han to get permits and loans to open businesses. In addition, the widespread use of the Chinese language in urban areas and many businesses limited opportunities for many Tibetans. Fundamental worker rights recognized by the International Labor Organization, including the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively, which were broadly denied in the rest of China, were also denied in Tibetan areas.

Although Chinese officials asserted that 92 percent of the officially registered population in the TAR was Tibetan, they acknowledged that these figures did not include the large number of "temporary" Han residents, including military and paramilitary troops and their dependents, many of whom had lived in the TAR for years. Furthermore, freer movement of persons throughout China, government-sponsored development, and the prospect of economic opportunity in the TAR have led to a substantial increase in the non-Tibetan population, including both China's Muslim Hui minority and Han Chinese, in Lhasa and other urban areas, as migrant workers from China's large transient population sought to take advantage of the new economic opportunities. Most of these migrants professed to be temporary residents, but small businesses run by Han and Hui citizens, mostly restaurants and retail shops, predominated in almost all TAR cities. Many observers estimated that more than half of Lhasa's population was Han Chinese, and even official estimates put the number of temporary Han Chinese residents in Lhasa at over 100,000 out of a total population of 409,500. Elsewhere in the TAR, the Han percentage of the population was significantly lower. In rural areas, the Han presence was often negligible.

Rapid economic growth, the expanding tourism industry and the introduction of more modern cultural influences also have disrupted traditional living patterns and customs and threatened traditional Tibetan culture. In Lhasa, the Chinese cultural presence was obvious and widespread. In 2002, many traditional Tibetan-style buildings located in the UNESCO-protected downtown area of Lhasa were demolished. The Chinese language was spoken widely, and Chinese characters were used in most commercial and official communications.

Although the TAR Government passed a law in March 2002 stating the equality of Tibetan and Chinese as official languages and promoting the development of Tibetan, the dominant position of the Chinese language in government, commerce, and academia undermined the ability of younger Tibetans to speak and read their native language.

According to 2002 official government statistics, 32.5 percent of persons in the TAR were illiterate or semi-literate. However, illiteracy and semi-literacy rates were as high as 90 percent in some areas. Government statistics indicated that 85.8 percent of eligible children attended primary school, and the Government announced plans for 95 percent of children in the TAR to receive 6 years of compulsory education by 2005; however, in practice, many pupils in rural areas received only 1 to 3 years of education.

In the TAR and other Tibetan areas, many primary schools at the village level followed a Tibetan curriculum. According to local education officials, Tibetan was the main language of instruction in 60 percent of middle schools in the TAR, predominantly in more remote areas, although there were also special classes offering instruction in Chinese. However, some NGOs maintained that the official figures were inaccurate, claiming that fewer Tibetan children received instruction in the Tibetan language. Most of those who attended TAR regional high schools continued to receive some of their education in Tibetan, but knowledge of Chinese was essential as most classes were in Chinese. Tibetan curriculum high schools existed in a few areas. The Government continued to allocate funds to enable Tibetan students to study in secondary schools elsewhere in China. According to government figures, there were 13,000 Tibetan students from the TAR studying in approximately 100 schools in 26 different parts of China. Knowledge of Chinese usually was necessary to receive a higher education, although some colleges established to serve ethnic minorities allowed for study of some subjects in Tibetan. In general, opportunities to study at privately funded Tibetan-language schools or to receive a traditional Tibetan-language religious education were greater in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

On July 29, authorities reportedly closed the Ngaba Kirti Monastic School in Ngaba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, and summoned its chief patron, Soepa Nagur, to Sichuan's capital city Chengdu, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Founded in 1994 with private funds to provide traditional Tibetan and monastic education to rural residents, the school attracted the attention of local authorities in 1998, who forced the school to change its name, include secular subjects in its curriculum, and finally merge with another nearby institution.

Authorities reportedly required professors, particularly those from Tibet University's Tibetan language department, which was viewed as a potential source of dissent, to attend political education sessions and limited course studies and materials in an effort to prevent separatist political and religious activity on campus. Many ancient or religious texts were banned from the curriculum for political reasons. Tibet University was established to train Tibetan teachers for the local educational system; however, Han representation in the student body and faculty far exceeded their proportion of the total TAR population. Although Tibetans were given admission preference, Han Chinese students frequently gained admission because they scored higher on admission exams due to stronger Chinese-language skills and educational backgrounds.

Malnutrition among Tibetan children continued to be widespread in many areas of the TAR. This was particularly true of rural areas and resulted in high rates of stunted growth among children. Nutritional deficiency ailments, such as goiter (from a lack of iodine), night blindness (from a lack of Vitamin A), and rickets were said to be relatively common among children in some areas. Special programs, sponsored by both government bodies and foreign NGOs, were in place in some areas to address these problems.

Prostitution was a growing problem in Tibetan areas, as it was elsewhere in the country. Hundreds of brothels operated semi-openly in Lhasa. Up to 10,000 commercial sex workers may have been employed in Lhasa alone. Some of the prostitution occurred at sites owned by the Party, the Government, and the military. Most prostitutes in the TAR were Han women, mainly from Sichuan. However, some Tibetans, mainly young girls from rural or nomadic areas, also worked as prostitutes. The incidence of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes in Tibetan areas was unknown, but lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and economic pressures on prostitutes to engage in unprotected sex made an increase in the rate of HIV infection likely.

In July, the TAR Tourism Bureau confirmed that it had fired a number of Tibetan tour guides educated in India or Nepal, and brought 100 tour guides from other provinces to work in the TAR during the summer tourist season. Government officials stated that all tour guides working in the TAR will be required to seek employment with the Tourism Bureau and to pass a licensing exam on tourism and political ideology. The Government's stated intent in dismissing the Tibetans was to ensure that all tour guides provide visitors with the Government's position opposing Tibetan independence and the activities of the Dalai Lama. The Tourist Bureau's monopoly does not extend to Tibetan areas outside the TAR, and some tour guides educated abroad reportedly moved to those areas, where they could offer their services more freely.

The Tibetan language services of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia (RFA), as well as of the Oslo-based Voice of Tibet, suffered from the same jamming of their frequencies by Chinese authorities as their Chinese language services. However, Tibetans were able to listen to the broadcasts at least some of the time. RFA stated that Tibetans were subject to intimidation and fines for listening to foreign-language broadcasts.

Although the Government made efforts in recent years to restore some of the physical structures and other aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, repressive social and political controls continued to limit the fundamental freedoms of Tibetans and risked undermining Tibet's unique cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage.

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