Report: Tighter Chinese controls threaten future of Tibetan Buddhism

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2004

SHANGHAI, China (AP) China is threatening the future of Tibetan Buddhism by limiting the number of monks and discouraging festivals, a watchdog group said in a report. The actions are part of a campaign to tighten control of the Himalayan region.

Authorities are reducing time for religious study in monasteries by requiring political classes, while ordinary Tibetans are under increased pressure to denounce the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled leader, said the report issued this month by the International Campaign for Tibet.

''Undermining Tibet's religion is directly linked to China's political and economic priorities,'' one of its authors, Kate Saunders, said by phone from Washington, where the group is based.

Buddhism is the core of Tibet's cultural identity, but China's ruling Communist Party views it as a threat to political control of the region, Saunders said.

China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were independent for much of that time. Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951 and the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India eight years later, after a failed uprising.

Tibet has 1,700 temples and monasteries and 46,000 clergy, according to official Chinese figures.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue declined to comment on the report, saying she had not seen it.

''The Chinese government respects freedom of religion and protects Chinese citizens' rights to religious freedom,'' Zhang said at a regular news briefing.

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