|[10 August 2016] At the end of July, Chinese authorities in Tibet began demolition work on Larung Gar, one of the world’s largest and most influential Tibetan Buddhist institutes. The government aims to halve the population and exert further control over the religious academy. As well as the destruction of dwellings and expulsion of residents, the authorities are increasing surveillance, implementing entry screening procedures and forming new management committees to be led by a majority of government officials.
Demolition and expulsions
On 20 July, the demolition of dwellings at Larung Gar (pictured right & below), began with police officers and government officials accompanying Chinese work teams. According to reports, approximately 600 dwellings were razed in the first six days. Around 1,400 dwellings were marked for destruction by the end of July. It is understood nuns’ homes and elderly people’s hostels were amongst the first wave of demolitions.
Larung Gar is located in in eastern Tibet in Serthar county, Kardze prefecture, in the traditional Tibetan province of Kham (now incorporated into China’s Sichuan province).
An official government order (see below) on actions to be taken by local authorities at Larung Gar, states, “By September 30, 2017 the population of the encampment must be limited to 5,000 persons.” It is understood that the resulting population is to be made up of 3,500 nuns and 1,500 monks. Though residences have been destroyed, it is not clear if residents have already been expelled from the area.
Monks, nuns and local people have followed the appeals of religious leaders at the monastery not to obstruct the demolitions or to protest, despite deep distress in the religious community. Tibetan lamas urged calm as the demolitions began, advising monks and nuns to continue with their studies and to focus on the Buddhist teachings, not the destruction of physical dwellings.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is believed to have taken an interest in Larung Gar, which may explain the government’s actions to exert strict control over the institute.
According to Radio Free Asia, since the demolitions began the Chinese authorities have stationed armed security forces at the work site and warned that attempts at protest or resistance will be punished by arrests and incarceration. In addition, communications from Larung Gar have been heavily censored with the authorities actively searching for anyone who has attempted to send send images of destroyed dwellings and other structures abroad. Phones and social media accounts are being monitored and visits to Larung Gar have been banned.
Official government orders
Human Rights Watch translated an official government document (page 1 pictured right)describing in detail plans for the Larung Gar institute which include the demolition of dwellings, increasing surveillance and “ideological guidance”.
The following points are made on population reduction:
Under the heading of “Promoting the law and ideological guidance”, the order states:
In addition, the order stipulates:
No official reason for the demolitions has been given, though the government order stated “correction and rectification obligations”. Officially, Larung Gar is undergoing “construction” and “development”.
Local government officials have criticised claims of demolition and destruction at Larung Gar. The Secretary of Serthar County’s United Front Work Department, Palkho, called such comments “totally untrue and irresponsible”. Palkho added, the goal is “to build a more orderly, beautiful, secure and peaceful land where people can practice peace of mind, study more precisely, and allow the elderly to live more comfortably, and at the same time accelerate the pace of urbanization and development in [nearby] Lo-Nor town.”
On 26 July, the Chinese state-run Global Times claimed Larung Gar’s Buddhist leaders “want to reduce the number of unregistered monks and nuns; they themselves discourage the unregistered from living there.”
The order has been met with criticism in the international community. Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China Director, said, “If authorities somehow believe that the Larung Gar facilities are overcrowded, the answer is simple: allow Tibetans and other Buddhists to build more monasteries.”
On 8 August, the US State Department expressed concern that the Chinese authorities “initiated the demolition of residences at Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute without the consent of the institute’s leaders.” It urged the Chinese government “to cease actions that may escalate tensions and to pursue forthright consultations with the institute’s leaders to address any safety concerns in a way that does not infringe on the right of Tibetans to practice their religion freely.”
The Larung Gar Buddhist Institute (pictured right & below before demolition work started) is a highly respected and iconic centre of Tibetan Buddhism, renowned worldwide for its studies, teachings and promotional activities. It is considered the largest Buddhist academy in the world.
Larung Gar is located in Serthar county, Kardze prefecture, in the traditional Tibetan province Kham (now incorporated into China’s Sichuan province).
Prior to the start of the demolition and expulsions, it is estimated 10,000 people lived and studied at the monastic community; a mixture of monks, nuns and laypeople, including both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhists students.
In 2001, Chinese authorities razed hundreds of dwellings and expelled all Chinese students in an attempt to control the population size. At this time Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s health deteriorated and he was admitted to hospital. He died on 7 January 2004. Since then, Larung Gar has been allowed to operate and grow with minimal interference from the Chinese authorities.
Article 36 of China’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, however, in reality this right is neglected in Tibet. The Chinese government has attempted to control Tibetan Buddhism for decades. In the Tibet Autonomous Region all religious institutions are closely monitored, with government officials stationed at every monastery and nunnery. In recent years, this policy has spread into neighbouring Tibetan regions in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces.
Larung Gar is of immeasurable importance in terms of Tibetan language, culture and religion and must be treasured and protected. The expulsions and demolitions are a serious abuse of the right to religious freedom. Tibetans should be allowed to practice and study their religion without interference from the Chinese government.
Protest on 10 August
Tibet Society is supporting the protest, organised by Students for a Free Tibet UK, on Wednesday 10 August, 6pm-8pm outside the Chinese Embassy, 49-51 Portland Place, London W1B 1JL… further details
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