In its latest annual report titled, “The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule”, Freedom House puts Tibet joint-worst country/territory in the world. This leading US Think Tank rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories through its annual Freedom in the World report. Individual freedoms—ranging from the right to vote to freedom of expression and equality before the law—can be affected by state or nonstate actors.
Below is the excerpt on Tibet from the Freedom House Report:
Tibet is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government based in Beijing, with local decision-making power concentrated in the hands of Chinese party officials. Residents of both Han Chinese and Tibetan ethnicity are denied fundamental rights, but the authorities are especially rigorous in suppressing any signs of dissent among Tibetans, including manifestations of Tibetan religious beliefs and cultural identity. State policies, such as incentives for non-Tibetan people to migrate from other parts of China and the compulsory relocation of ethnic Tibetans, have reduced the ethnic Tibetan share of the population over time.
- In March, the authorities announced that nearly 2,000 “inspectors” were being deployed to police Tibetan rural communities and enforce tighter travel restrictions, particularly near international borders in the south.
- Chinese government officials continued to leverage the COVID-19 pandemic, among other justifications, to restrict religious practice, including by closing or limiting access to Buddhist temples and monasteries. Officials also imposed increasingly oppressive ideological controls and political indoctrination within temples and monasteries, and supplemented internal video surveillance at such sites with human supervisors and informants.
- As part of a broader program of military training and indoctrination for ethnic Tibetan students, new rules introduced during the year required students who receive government aid for their schooling to enroll in two years of military training.
A1 0-4 pts
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0 4|
The Chinese government rules Tibet through administration of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and 12 Tibetan autonomous prefectures or counties in the nearby provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan. Under the Chinese constitution, autonomous areas have the right to formulate their own regulations and implement national legislation in accordance with local conditions. In practice, however, decision-making authority is concentrated in the hands of unelected ethnic (Han) Chinese officials of the CCP, which has a monopoly on political power. Wang Junzheng, former deputy party secretary and chief security officer in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), was appointed to replace Wu Yingjie as TAR party secretary in October 2021, raising grave concerns that the leadership was planning to expand the draconian policies it had adopted in the XUAR to the TAR.
The few ethnic Tibetans who occupy senior executive positions serve mostly as figureheads or echo official doctrine. In October 2021, Yan Jinhai, an ethnic Tibetan official who had most recently served as the Lhasa party secretary, was chosen as chairman (governor) of the TAR. He replaced Che Dalha, another ethnic Tibetan who had held the post since 2017. The TAR chairman is formally elected by the regional people’s congress, but in practice such decisions are predetermined by the CCP leadership.
A2 0-4 pts
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0 4|
The regional people’s congress of the TAR, which is formally elected by lower-level people’s congresses, chooses delegates to China’s 3,000-member National People’s Congress (NPC) every five years. In practice, all candidates are vetted by the CCP. The current TAR people’s congress held its first session in January 2018, and the current NPC was seated that March.
A3 0-4 pts
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0 4|
As in the rest of China, direct elections are only permitted at the lowest administrative levels. Tight political controls and aggressive state interference ensure that competitive races with independent candidates are even rarer in Tibet than in other parts of the country. Regulations published in 2014 placed significant restrictions on candidates for village elections, excluding those who have attended religious teachings abroad, have communicated with overseas Tibetans, or have relatives studying at monasteries outside China.
B1 0-4 pts
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||0 4|
All organized political activity outside the CCP is illegal and harshly punished, as is any evidence of loyalty to or communication with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)—a representative body based in Dharamsala, India, that is often referred to as a government-in-exile.
The CTA includes an elected parliament serving five-year terms, a Supreme Justice Commission that adjudicates civil disputes, and a directly elected prime minister, also serving five-year terms. Votes are collected from the Tibetan diaspora around the world. The unelected Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who also traditionally served as head of state, renounced his political role in 2011. In May 2021, Penpa Tsering was elected as prime minister of the CTA, replacing Lobsang Sangay, who stepped down after serving two terms.
B2 0-4 pts
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0 4|
As in China as a whole, the one-party system structurally precludes and rigorously suppresses the development of any organized political opposition. Tibet has never experienced a peaceful and democratic transfer of power between rival groups.
B3 0-4 pts
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0 4|
The authoritarian CCP is not accountable to voters and denies the public any meaningful influence or independent participation in political affairs.
B4 0-4 pts
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||0 4|
Political opportunities for ethnic Tibetans within Tibet remain limited. Ethnic Chinese officials dominate top-level and strategic positions in the CCP and government, while ethnic Tibetans are restricted to lower-level and rubber-stamp positions. The authorities vigorously suppress and harshly punish any independent political or civic engagement by ethnic Tibetans, even on local community issues that were considered less politically sensitive in previous decades.
Women are well represented in many public-sector jobs and CCP posts within the TAR, though most high-level officials are men, and women are unable to organize independently to advance their political interests.
C1 0-4 pts
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0 4|
As elsewhere in China, unelected CCP officials determine and implement government policies in Tibet. Constitutionally, the TAR, like other ethnic minority regions, should enjoy greater autonomy than other provinces, but in practice it is controlled even more tightly by the central government.
In March 2018, the CCP Central Committee announced significant structural reforms that reduced the already limited separation between the party and state governance, placing CCP entities—like the United Front Work Department—more explicitly in charge of policy areas including religious affairs and ethnic minorities, which are especially relevant for Tibet.
C2 0-4 pts
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1 4|
Corruption is believed to be extensive, as it is in China more generally, though little information is available on the scale of the problem.
There have been moves in recent years to curb graft among the region’s officials as part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s nationwide anticorruption campaign. However, many prosecutions are believed to be politically selective or amount to reprisals for perceived political and religious disloyalty. Efforts to control corruption are monopolized by the CCP leadership; as elsewhere in China, citizens who seek to expose official misdeeds in Tibet have faced detention and prosecution.
C3 0-4 pts
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0 4|
Governance is opaque in all of China but even more so in Tibet. A study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, published in 2017, ranked cities and counties nationwide by their level of government transparency; Lhasa, the capital of the TAR, scored lowest among the cities, and the TAR’s Nang County was the lowest among the counties under examination.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-3|
In recent years, the Chinese government has accelerated policies that decrease the proportion of Tibetans in the TAR and undermine their cultural and religious identity—part of a renewed, nationwide campaign to “Sinicize” religious and ethnic minority populations. The implementation of the government’s 2019–20 Farmer and Pastoralist Training and Labor Transfer Action Plan forced tens of thousands of additional Tibetan farmers and nomads to surrender their land-use rights to state-run collectives, become wage laborers, and move to urban areas where they are crowded into large apartment blocks. While the plan’s stated goal is to alleviate rural poverty, in practice it has prevented tens of thousands of Tibetans from pursuing their traditional way of life, depriving them of their economic livelihood and connection to the land. Moreover, transferring Tibetans to urban areas facilitates their exposure to more intense state surveillance and CCP propaganda. Authorities have also invoked the goal of environmental conservation to justify the forcible relocation of Tibetans from their ancestral land. Parallel government policies continue to encourage ethnic Chinese migration to the TAR, for example by recruiting workers for infrastructure projects in the region; such migrants typically do not change their household registration, meaning their numbers are not reflected in official statistics. “Ethnic unity” regulations promote intermarriage between Han Chinese and Tibetans through financial incentives, further eroding Tibetans’ distinct cultural and religious identity.
More than 500,000 Tibetans have been sent to military-led “vocational training” facilities since the beginning of 2020. The programs separate individuals from their communities, subject them to political indoctrination, and pressure them to abandon their religious beliefs and “backward thinking.” Local officials are said to be given specific quotas for the number of Tibetans they are required to enroll in such programs. Trainees are forced into wage labor, making them dependent on the state and allied private employers for their jobs and income. All those who receive state benefits, as well as state employees, are required to denounce the Dalai Lama, abandon their religious beliefs, and profess political loyalty to the CCP.
The authorities have set up military-style summer “education camps” for Tibetan children between the ages of 8 and 16 in areas near the militarized border with India. The official purpose of the camps is to train young people in military discipline, increase their patriotism, and prepare them to take part in national defense. The compulsory program separates children from their families, further weakening their connection to Tibetan culture, and prevents them from attending Tibetan language classes during school breaks; Tibetan has been phased out as a language of instruction in schools over the past decade. New rules introduced during 2021 required Tibetan secondary-school and college students who receive government aid for their education to enroll in two years of military training.
D1 0-4 pts
|Are there free and independent media?||0 4|
CCP authorities control traditional and social media in Tibet even more strictly than in Han Chinese areas of the country. Individuals who use the internet, social media, or other means to share politically sensitive news content or commentary face arrest and heavy criminal penalties. Tibetan cultural expression, which the authorities associate with separatism, is subject to especially harsh restrictions; scores of Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and musicians have been incarcerated in recent years.
Deliberate internet blackouts occur periodically in Tibet, including in areas where public demonstrations have occurred. International broadcasts are jammed, and personal communication devices are confiscated and searched. The online censorship and monitoring systems in place across China are applied more stringently in the TAR, while censorship of Tibet-related keywords on the popular messaging application WeChat has become more sophisticated.
The TAR is the only provincial-level region of China that requires foreigners to obtain a special permit to enter, and foreign journalists are regularly prevented from visiting. Journalists also face barriers in access to Tibetan areas of Sichuan and other provinces, though no permission is officially required to travel to those places. Tibetans who communicate with foreign media or other foreign contacts without permission face criminal prosecution and long prison sentences. Four Tibetan monks were tried in September 2020 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 20 years for sending messages to colleagues outside Tibet regarding charitable aid to a monastery in Nepal that was damaged by an earthquake. Sharing local information online can also lead to punishment. In August 2021, a group of 110 Tibetans were detained for posting photos of the police presence ahead of a traditional annual horse-racing festival.
D2 0-4 pts
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||0 4|
Religious practice is carefully managed and increasingly restricted in Tibet. The government’s efforts to “Sinicize” Tibetan Buddhism have accelerated in recent years, with officials requiring Tibetan Buddhist clergy and lay believers to pledge their loyalty to the CCP and socialism above their religious beliefs, to denounce the Dalai Lama, and to attend increasingly long political education sessions. The Chinese authorities view Tibetan reverence for the Dalai Lama and adherence to the region’s unique form of Buddhism as a threat to CCP rule. Possession of Dalai Lama–related materials—especially in the TAR—continues to result in detention and possible criminal prosecution.
Political and ideological indoctrination within monasteries and nunneries intensified during 2021, with monks and nuns subjected to invasive and onerous supervision. “Management committees” made up of CCP cadres and police were given increased authority to directly control the daily operations of religious communities. “Intelligent temple management” systems operate in nearly all religious institutions, including pervasive video surveillance in all temples and monasteries. In 2021, authorities continued to use the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext to shut down monasteries and nunneries and to restrict hours for worship in many temples. The authorities employ a range of strategies to reduce the number of individuals pursuing religious education or engaged in religious activities. Those who wish to become monks or nuns must be at least 18 years old, and religious education for children is prohibited.
The Chinese government has asserted its intention to select the successor of the current Dalai Lama, who turned 86 in July 2021, and has promoted its own appointee to serve as the Panchen Lama, a religious figure who plays an important role in identifying the reincarnation of a Dalai Lama, according to Tibetan Buddhist rituals. The location of the Panchen Lama who was originally recognized by the current Dalai Lama remains unknown; he was abducted by Chinese officials in 1995, when he was six years old.
D3 0-4 pts
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||0 4|
University professors cannot lecture on certain topics, and many must attend political indoctrination sessions. The government restricts course materials to prevent circulation of unofficial versions of Tibetan history and has phased out the use of Tibetan as the language of instruction in schools over the past decade. Private and monastery schools have been largely shut down in recent years in an effort to force students into government-run schools—many of them boarding schools—where Mandarin is the only language of instruction.
D4 0-4 pts
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||0 4|
Freedom of expression, including in private, is severely limited by factors including authorities’ monitoring of electronic communications, a heavy security presence, recruitment of informants, and regular ideological campaigns in Tibetan areas. The authorities in Tibet make use of an invasive security and censorship system that features nearly ubiquitous video cameras, use of facial-recognition technology, “smart” identity cards, and integrated surveillance systems that allow tracking of residents and tourists in real time. Hundreds of “security centers” operate across the region, with more than 130 in Lhasa alone.
Ordinary Tibetans are regularly detained or sentenced to prison for verbally expressing support for the Dalai Lama and independence for Tibet, sharing images of the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan flag on social media, or sending information abroad about self-immolation protests. Scores of Tibetans have been detained for expressing support for Tibetan language rights on social media.
E1 0-4 pts
|Is there freedom of assembly?||0 4|
Chinese authorities severely restrict freedom of assembly as part of the government’s intensified “stability maintenance” policies in Tibet. Control and surveillance of public gatherings extend beyond major towns to villages and rural areas. Even nonviolent protesters are rapidly and often violently dispersed and harshly punished.
The number of self-immolations, typically intended to protest CCP rule, has declined sharply in the last few years due to information blackouts, heightened security and surveillance, and harsh punishments of those associated with self-immolators. Engaging in self-immolation and organizing, assisting, or gathering crowds related to such acts are considered criminal offenses, drawing charges of intentional homicide in some cases.
Despite the restrictions, Tibetans continue to seek ways to express their views on government policies through sporadic solitary or small-scale protests in public places, with participants briefly calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, the release of the Panchen Lama, or independence for Tibet, before being seized by police.
E2 0-4 pts
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0 4|
It is virtually impossible for Tibetans to establish and operate nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) without facing punishment by the authorities. Even seemingly apolitical social and community engagement is no longer tolerated. At least 121 Tibetans, many of them members of the Association for the Preservation of the Tibetan Language, were detained in an August 2021 sweep in Kardze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, for supporting Tibetan language rights and possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama. Foreign NGOs are generally not allowed to operate in Tibet.
E3 0-4 pts
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||0 4|
Independent trade unions are illegal in Tibet, as they are in China as a whole. The only legal union organization is the government-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which has long been criticized for failing to properly defend workers’ rights. Labor activism in Tibet is riskier and therefore much rarer than in other parts of China. According to the NGO China Labour Bulletin, no strikes were documented in the TAR during 2021, and only one protest over wage arrears was recorded in Lhasa for the whole year, compared with more than a thousand labor actions in the rest of the country.
F1 0-4 pts
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0 4|
The CCP controls the judicial system, and courts consequently lack independence. Courts at all levels are supervised by party political-legal committees that influence the appointment of judges, court operations, and verdicts and sentences. Given the political sensitivity of Tibetan issues, the scope for autonomous judicial decision-making in Tibetan areas is even more limited than elsewhere in China.
F2 0-4 pts
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0 4|
Tibetans are systematically denied due process in criminal matters. Among other abuses, they are subjected to arbitrary arrest, denial of family visits, long periods of enforced disappearance, solitary confinement, and illegal pretrial detention. Authorities often fail to inform families of the detention, whereabouts, and well-being of loved ones. Following the detention of writer and Buddhism teacher Lobsang Lhundup in June 2019, nothing about his whereabouts or status was publicly known until it was reported in October 2021 that he had been sentenced to four years in prison, after a secret trial, for writing a book in which he criticized the Chinese government’s policies in the TAR. Tibetans have even less access to legal representation of their choice than Han Chinese; lawyers seeking to defend them are routinely harassed, denied access to their clients, blocked from attending relevant hearings, and in some cases disbarred in retaliation. Trials are closed if state security interests are invoked, which sometimes occurs even when no political crime is listed.
Estimates for the number of Tibetan political prisoners in detention range from 1,000 as of the end of 2020 to more than 1,800 as of 2021, according to the NGO Dui Hua and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, respectively.
F3 0-4 pts
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0 4|
Detained suspects and prisoners are subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Many Tibetan prisoners of conscience die in custody under circumstances indicating torture, and others are released with severe injuries and in extremely poor health, apparently to avoid deaths in custody. Many of the latter subsequently succumb to their injuries. The 121 or more Tibetans who were detained in Kardze Prefecture in August 2021 were reported to have been denied food, clothing, and medical care.
F4 0-4 pts
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0 4|
Ethnic Tibetans face a range of socioeconomic disadvantages and discriminatory treatment by employers, law enforcement agencies, and other official bodies. The dominant role of the Chinese language in education and employment limits opportunities for many Tibetans. While Tibetans are supposed to receive preferential treatment in university admission examinations, this is often not enough to secure entrance. Changes in the scoring system in 2021 made it more difficult for Tibetan students to gain admission to top-tier national-level secondary schools that offer study of the Tibetan language. Tibetans who apply for public-sector jobs—including cleaners and other low-level staff—are required to denounce the Dalai Lama, renounce their religious beliefs, and demonstrate their political loyalty in other ways that fundamentally negate their ethnic and cultural identity.
As in the rest of China, gender bias against women remains widespread, despite laws barring workplace discrimination. LGBT+ people suffer from discrimination, though same-sex sexual activity is not criminalized. Social pressures discourage discussion of LGBT+ issues.
G1 0-4 pts
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||0 4|
The TAR features extreme restrictions on freedom of movement that disproportionately affect ethnic Tibetans. Obstacles including troop deployments, checkpoints, roadblocks, required bureaucratic approvals, and passport restrictions impede freedom of movement both within Tibetan areas—especially the TAR—and between those areas and the outside world. In March 2021, the authorities announced that nearly 2,000 “inspectors” were being deployed to police Tibetan rural communities and staff about 700 “discipline committees” across the region. The increased state scrutiny included tighter travel restrictions and the need for permits to enter certain areas, particularly near international borders in the south.
While Han Chinese tourists have been encouraged to visit the TAR, the movements of foreign tourists, journalists, diplomats, and others are tightly controlled, and they are often denied entry. Foreign tourists must travel in groups with state-approved tour guides and obtain official permission to visit the TAR. Even then, last-minute travel bans are periodically imposed. Tibetans face nearly insurmountable hurdles in obtaining a passport for foreign travel, and foreign nationals of Tibetan origin face enormous challenges when seeking a visa to visit Tibet, in some cases waiting for years only for their request to be denied.
Increased security efforts and Nepalese government cooperation have made it difficult for Tibetans to cross the border into Nepal. In recent years some Tibetan pilgrims who have traveled abroad have faced detention upon return to China.
G2 0-4 pts
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1 4|
The economy is dominated by state-owned enterprises and private businesses with informal ties to officials. Tibetans reportedly find it more difficult than ethnic Chinese residents to obtain permits and loans to open businesses.
The multiyear policy of forcing Tibetans off their rural land and into the urban wage economy has given the state additional leverage over a growing proportion of the population, as those affected lose their self-reliance and increasingly depend on market wages and government subsidies for their income.
G3 0-4 pts
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1 4|
The central government further loosened family planning regulations nationwide in 2021, allowing all families to have up to three children—after having ended the long-standing one-child policy in 2016 by allowing couples to have up to two children. While the change means a likely decrease in the number of people who experience punitive aspects of the system, such as high fines, job dismissal, reduced government benefits, and detention, the authorities continue to regulate reproduction, and related abuses and punishments are occasionally reported.
In the past, China’s family-planning policies were formally more lenient for Tibetans and members of other ethnic minority groups. Officials limited urban Tibetans to two children and encouraged rural Tibetans to stop at three, at a time when Han Chinese couples were limited to one child. As a result, the TAR is one of the few areas of China without a skewed sex ratio.
State policies that actively encourage interethnic marriages with financial and other incentives, and that require couples to designate a single ethnicity for their children, are among the ongoing policies that have reduced the ethnic Tibetan share of the TAR’s population. Tibetan women are vulnerable to human trafficking schemes that result in forced marriage.
G4 0-4 pts
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1 4|
Exploitative employment practices are pervasive in many industries, as is the case across China, though ethnic Tibetans report additional disadvantages in hiring and compensation. Human trafficking that targets Tibetan women can lead to forced prostitution or exploitative employment in domestic service and other economic sectors elsewhere in China. The herders, farmers, and other Tibetans who are forced off their rural land and resettled in towns and cities are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by public and private employers alike.
Freedom House: https://freedomhouse.org/country/tibet/freedom-world/2022