New campaign against China's Dalai Lama plan

Dalai Lama
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

19th May 2016

Defending Tibetans' right to religious freedom

This week saw the 21st anniversary of the abduction by China of six-year-old Ghedun Choekyi Nyima, who had been chosen as the Panchen Lama, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most senior figures. Within months of his disappearance, China had appointed its own Panchen Lama, the son of Communist Party officials. Today, it has a plan to appoint its own puppet Dalai Lama. Free Tibet is launching a major new campaign to defend religious freedom in Tibet and ensure that any Chinese-appointed Dalai Lama is shunned internationally.

Say no to China's plan for the Dalai Lama

Tibetans will utterly reject a Dalai Lama forced on them by Beijing. Sign the petition to call on political and religious leaders to tell China that they will do the same and will never recognise any Dalai Lama it appoints.

Religious "freedom" in Tibet

In April 2016, Chinese president Xi Jinping said “Religious groups… must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” Tibetans who do not do so pay a heavy price. The US State Department's 2016 report on international religious freedom describes the repression of religious freedom in Tibet as “severe”. It records “reports of extrajudicial killings, prolonged detention without trial, torture, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices”.

Free Tibet's Robed Resisters campaign highlights the cases of monks and nuns imprisoned for "political crimes". Tibet's monasteries are under surveillance, forced to give local Communist Party officials a role in their management and required to fly the Chinese flag. Those not complying can be closed.

Ordinary Tibetans are intimidated by security forces at prayer festivals and denied the opportunity to travel for religious teachings. Sometimes funeral services for protesters or political prisoners are banned. For many Tibetans, the gravest insult of all is that they are banned from keeping pictures or teachings of the Dalai Lama.

Read more about religious freedom in Tibet on our religious freedom pages or in our new report Beyond Belief: religious freedom in TIbet.

China's Dalai Lama plans

For China, Tibetans' loyalty to the Dalai Lama and the global popularity of the current Dalai Lama is a threat. For that reason, the Chinese government has been forcefully asserting that only it can appoint the next Dalai Lama. In Tibetan Buddhism, Dalai Lamas are believed to be reincarnated and are recognised when religious authorities identify the reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama some years after his death.  Despite being atheist, the Chinese Communist government claims the right to approve all reincarnate lamas in Tibet. For his part, the current Dalai Lama has made clear that only he and Buddhist authorities can determine how his successor will be chosen. He has said that no Dalai Lama appointed for political purposes "including by those in the People's Republic of China" will be legitimate. Chinese government officials have described his position as "blasphemy".

Tibetans have rejected the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake for more than twenty years - protesters often call for the reinstatement of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. The current Dalai Lama is 80 years old and in good health but China is preparing the ground now for his replacement. Any attempt by China to appoint its own Dalai Lama will cause deep hurt and anger inside Tibet.

Ask governments to reject China's plan

The current Dalai Lama is recognised and respected as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism across the world. If China appoints a rival Dalai Lama to the one chosen by Tibetan Buddhists, governments and religious leaders will face a choice of who to recognise. Many governments have been consistent in standing up for religious freedom in Tibet - but many are unwilling to offend China, such as by meeting the current Dalai Lama.

A clear statement from governments and religious leaders that they will not recognise a "Chinese" Dalai Lama would be a concrete act of support for Tibetans' freedom of belief and a meaningful sign to China that its actions are unacceptable. If China understands that its "fake" Dalai Lama will be rejected not just by Tibetans but by the global community, it might also see sense and abandon its plan.

Free Tibet has sent copies of our new Beyond Belief report to religious leaders, political parties and human rights organisations, seeking their commitment to stand against China's plans. Our campaign is already wining support. Please sign the petition calling on governments and religious leaders to say they will not recognise the legitimacy of a Chinese government-appointed Dalai Lama.