Home / Human Rights Update 1996 / “Yan Da” – China’s strike hard campaign in Tibet

“Yan Da” – China’s strike hard campaign in Tibet

In April 1996, the government of the PRC launched the nation-wide “Strike Hard” or “Crack Down Severely On Crimes” campaign (Chinese: Yan Da), targeted at crushing corruption and crime. Within Tibet Chinese authorities have focused on the so-called “splittists” – individuals who support Tibetan independence and the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Implementation of sub-campaigns such as the “Patriotic Re-education”campaign in Tibet has led to widespread arrests and expulsions of monks and nuns who have refused to be “re-educated” along Chinese communist lines.

The Chinese criminal justice system:

Strike Hard has been made possible by the serious lack of justice prevailing in the PRC’s judicial system; its judiciary, lawyers and criminal procedure. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exerts a pervasive influence on the judiciary. By law, all members must be members of the CCP and all Political cases are adjudicated by a Political and Law Commission comprised of members of the judiciary, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the Procuracy.

Judges are not required to have any formal legal training and most judges have a PSB or Army background. The judiciary is expected to actively take part in Government campaigns with the result that thedegree of punishment received often depends upon whether a campaign is in progress.

As with the judiciary, lawyers are under the pervasive influence of the CCP and the Provisional Regulations on Lawyers 1980 describe lawyers as “servants of the State”. Lawyers may not defend their clients against “justified” legal charges with the result that their role is often limited to merely arguing for a lighter sentence. To do otherwise is to risk punishment.

A number of proposed changes to the criminal procedure purporting to strengthen the rights of the accused are due to be introduced in January 1997. However there is widespread concern that the new legislation will similarly provide for arbitrary detention and politically motivated prosecution.

Strike Hard campaign in Tibet:

The main sub-campaign of Strike Hard within Tibet is the so-called “Patriotic Re-education Campaign” and follows from the earlier campaign which banned photographs of the Dalai Lama.

On 26 January 1996 the order was given by the “Tibet Autonomous Region’s” Department of Culture to the Norbulinka and Potala Palace to remove all photographs of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Following this order, the ban was extended to public institutions and private homes.

On 7 May 1996 a Chinese “Work Team” (Chinese : gongzuo dui) arrived at Ganden Monastery, tasked with removing all photographs of H.H. the Dalai Lama. The monks refused to co-operate and the riot sparked off resulted in two deaths and around 100 arrests of monks. A fewmonths later a number of monks were expelled as “fugitives”.

While some of those arrested were released in the following months (eight in June, three on 23 July and 15 on 30 August), 15 are known to be still in custody with 45 unaccounted for. In the subsequent months similar incidents occurred systematically throughout Tibet.

“Re-education” campaign:

The “Patriotic Re-education” campaign aims not just to strike at the heart of Tibet’s spiritual culture, but also to clamp down on the powerful dissident movement that has taken root in many monastic institutions.

The campaign has enforced laws restricting entrance to monasteries and introduced a political pledge with five principles:

  1. Opposition to separatism
  2. The unity of Tibet and China
  3. Recognition of the Chinese appointed Panchen Lama as the true one
  4. Denial that Tibet was or should be independent
  5. Agreement that the Dalai Lama is destroying the unity of the people

The effect of both of these measures is to de-populate the monasteries.

Monks are given red-cards if they assent to these principles, are subsequently allowed unrestricted travel within China and are seen by the Chinese as, “[having] great belief and love for their country and religion”. Those who refuse receive a green (sometimes described as blue) card which restricts travel to within the region of domicile.

Work teams:

As part of the re-education process, it is common practice for Chinese,”work teams” to be sent into monasteries to instruct monks on the evils of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan nationalism. Should the monks refuse to be “re-educated”, they may suffer harassment, expulsion or arrest.

Four books, issued by the ‘Office for the Promotion of Education in Patriotism of the Monks and Nuns in the Tibetan Autonomous Region’ are used in the “Education in Patriotism to be Conducted in the Monasteries and Nunneries of the Whole Region”.The books are entitled: “The Essence of How to Read Out and Explain the Religious Policy”; “… Anti-Splittism”; “… the History of Tibet”; and “… the Law”.

In August 1996 information was provided by an unofficial source to the Tibet Bureau for Southern Central Europe Affairs who had observed work teams in the following monasteries:

Drepung – a 180 person team (some Tibetans but mostly Chinese) which arrived on 1-2 August 1996 was holding group lectures and also engaging in private tutoring whereby a group of officials focus on a single monk; putting questions, issuing threats and inquiring about the activities and attitudes of other monks. Work team officials were pressuring young monks to give up their studies and return home. TIN reports that some Drepung monks resigned in advance of written examinations requiring the denunciation of the Dalai Lama.

Gyantse – a 15 member work team had been in residence They were lecturing three evenings a week and were planning to stay for 3 months since early July .

Shalu – a team of five in residence.

Sakya – a 20 member work team had been there for one month conducting daily “political” sessions from 3 to 7 p.m. TIN has confirmed this information, reporting that the sessions were due to end in mid- October. Sakya nunnery also has a work team of three officials giving daily lessons.

Sera – a work team of 70 officials (confirmed by Thupten Tsering, a former monk who says they arrived in June) with main sessions being held three times a week. There are attendance slips which must be kept, and monks must write their own biography, give a thumbprint and sign the five points. TIN reports that, in order to illustrate the benefits of Chinese rule in Tibet, officials at Sera employ educational techniques such as visits to Lhasa’s military hospital and modernisation projects in Lhasa. Armed officials or police are said to be deployed on rooftops around the monastery during all sessions. According to Thupten Tsering, in November 1996, five Sub-Committees – Health, Finance, Culture, Security and Education – were added to the Democratic Management Committee of Sera Monastery. Thupten believes the formation of these sub-committees is a ploy to remove the last vestiges of power from the monks.

Nechung – a work team comprising seven officials, all Tibetans.

Ganden – For six months from May 1996 to October 1996, Ganden Monastery was closed to outsiders. Chinese military personnel camped in tents at the foot of the hill where the monastery is situated. No communication was allowed between the monastery. and the outside

Samye – A work team was sent in July August

Sangog Palre – Four member “work team ” in resdence. They are to remain for 3 years

Arrests and deaths in custody:

Unofficial media figures report at least 2,200 executions and thousands of heavy prison sentences across China since Strike Hard’s launch. Within Tibet, TIN reports 111 arrests and at least one death in custody in 1996 in connection with the campaign. In late September when the 300 monks of Sera monastery near Lhasa refused to sign oaths denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Chinese police arrested seven monks for allegedly leading the rebellion. It was reported by TIN in November that nine Sera monks, plus a woman involved in the attempt by five monks to paste posters criticising the campaign, have been arrested.

In Drepung monastery, five monks are known to have been arrested during the re-education campaign, at least one of whom has been sentenced to three years imprisonment. Ngawang Tharchin, aged 21, was detained in September apparently as a result of contesting a statement that Tibet has been part of China since the Yuan dynasty. Ngawang was arrested two weeks later, sentenced without trial to three years re-education through labour on about 25 October 1996 and is believed to be in Trisam Prison, 10 km west of Lhasa.

An unconfirmed source reported to TIN that another monk from Drepung, Gyaltsen Yeshe aged about 20, was sentenced to three years at the same time for a related offence. The fate of two other Drepung monks; Yeshe Changchub, detained on 20 August, and Ngawang Choegyal (layname Gyatso) detained on 30 August, both aged about 23 years, remains unclear.

There are unconfirmed reports of deaths in an incident at Gander Choekor monastery in Ringon, Namling county. A monk called Lhundrup Palden is said to have been arrested along with two of his students after he distributed a long-life prayer for the child recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Another unverified report said that two student monks had drowned after they had jumped into a river to escape from police. (TIN News Update, 27 Nov. 1996).

TIN has reported two arrests and one death in custody resulting from the re-education sessions at Sakya monastery. On 23 August the caretaker-monk of Sakya’s main chapel, Gendun Gyaltsen, was arrested during a political meeting after pictures and cassettes of the DalaiLama were found in his room. Gendun Gyaltsen was placed in “thumbcuffs” and led away by police. One week later, after his release, he was expelled.

Tenchog Tenphel, a 27-year-old monk, was reportedly arrested at Sakya monastery on 1 September 1996 in front of a re-education session. He was held in the Sakya County Prison where he died on 14 September. While police said that he had committed suicide, local sources allege that he had died as a result of abuse in prison and no autopsy was carried out.

Thupten Tsering from Sera monastery reports that in November 1996 six monks of Sera Monastery were arrested following a disagreement with the Work Inspection Team.

Sometime in September 1996, according to a former monk, 14 monks of Ganden monastery were transferred to Drapchi Prison after sentences were imposed on them. The highest sentence passed was eight years. Another 12 to 13 monks were moved to Trisam Detention Centre. The highest sentence imposed on the monks detained in Trisam was 3 years.

Voluntary depopulation:

Many monks have chosen to voluntarily leave monasteries rather than renounce their spiritual leader.

Tsering Dawa, who was working at Samye monastery during the re- education campaign reported to TCHRD that in July / August 1996, a “work team” was sent in to Samye monastery. Tsering’s brother, Ten”work team” distributed questions to zin Dorjee, was a 25-year-old monk and disciplinary in charge of the dialectical class at Samye. The the monks testing their beliefs. On 10 September 1996 Tsering found his brother missing and his whereabouts unknown. He said this “was presumably as a result of Tenzin Dorjee’s vehement opposition to these questions.”

Tenzin Bhagdo, aged 23, from Drepung monastery told TCHRD that a “work team” was sent in to Drepung monastery on 2 August 1996. “During the campaign each monk was called to a secluded place and was individually interrogated by a member of the “work team”. The questions aim to oppose His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to denounce the Panchen Lama reincarnation recognised by His Holiness. Each monk was interrogated three times. If one does not give a satisfactory answer on the third time, he will not only be debarred from the monastery but is also sure to be put behind bars”, he said. Tenzin left the monastery before his third interrogation for fear of being imprisoned.

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