China recruits Tibetan monks 'to spread propaganda'

Human Rights Watch condemns 'abhorrent new levels' of government intrusion in religion
China recruits Tibetan monks 'to spread propaganda'

Tibetan Buddhist monks take part in Monlam, otherwise known as the Great Prayer Festival of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, at the Rongwo Monastery in Tongren County on March 1. Some are being made to act as propagandists for the Chinese government and Communist Party, it is claimed. (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP)

Tibetan monks and nuns are being forced to act as propagandists for the Chinese government and Communist Party, Human Rights Watch has claimed.

As part of the Sinicization of religion, the government is compelling selected monastics in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to undergo political training designed to create a new corps of Buddhist teachers proficient in state ideology, the watchdog reported on its website.

Under the "Four Standards" policy introduced in the TAR in 2018, monks and nuns must demonstrate "political reliability, moral integrity capable of impressing the public and willingness to play an active role at critical moments." The implication is that they must agree to stop any attempts to protest state policy.

"Chinese authorities have always placed heavy constraints on religious freedom, especially in Tibetan and other minority regions," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "Compelling Tibetan monks and nuns to be propagandists for the Communist Party takes government intrusion in religion to abhorrent new levels."

A select group of Tibetan monks and nuns attended a three-day training session, from May 31 to June 2, "to strengthen their political beliefs," state media said, and to prepare them to conduct the campaign in their own monasteries and communities.

The Communist Party has spent years trying to "correct" the thinking of Tibetan monks and nuns, using party members and officials to carry out political re-education. In May 1996, the party sent work teams to each monastery in the TAR, usually for three months at a time, to carry out repeated rounds of "patriotic education."

These training sessions, which continued over 15 years, required all monks and nuns to denounce the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, on pain of expulsion from their religious communities.

The Chinese government's current propaganda strategy is part of the national-level Sinicization policy approved during President Xi Jinping's first term.

The policy allows authorities to reshape the content of religious doctrine based on compatibility with socialist core values.

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