China's control of religion in Tibet

“Religious groups… must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China.”

President Xi Jinping, April 2016


Religion is one of the most distinctive and important aspects of Tibet’s unique culture. For the Chinese government, however, religion in Tibet is a political and security issue. Subduing monasteries, monks and nuns and controlling how Tibetans practice their religion is central to its plans to eliminate Tibetan resistance to its rule.

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”.

China’s control and suppression of Tibetan religious life is based on much more than violence. All aspects of Tibetan Buddhism are subject to state control and China has even claimed the right to appoint the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama.

Take action and learn more below.

Get involved

Are you a person of faith? We are building a coalition of religious leaders to join us. We will tell China that we will not accept any Dalai Lama chosen by them, and that the position must be filled as per the customs of Tibetan Buddhists. Click through to see how you can help.

Spotlight on monasteries

In Tibet today, local government and Communist Party officials take a direct role in the management of monasteries through “management committees”. Monasteries are required to fly Chinese flags and have portraits of the leaders of the Communist Party.  In 2015, a senior Communist official said that monks should behave in a “patriotic and law-abiding” manner. Surveillance cameras and even police stations are located inside and outside monasteries and regular inspections to uncover signs of loyalty to the Dalai Lama take place

When unrest occurs in any Tibetan area, the security spotlight will fall on its religious institutions. Following political disturbances in Driru County in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2013 and 2014, monks and nuns were arrested for both participating in protest and for allegedly planning future protests. 

They are often subject to “patriotic re-education” – intensive propaganda sessions in which teams of officials and party cadres subject monks and nuns to propaganda and compel them to agree that Tibet is an inalienable part of China or denounce the Dalai Lama. Monks and nuns who have refused to do so have been arrested, tortured and expelled from their monasteries.


Military at Gaden Ngachod monastery
Gyaltsen Norbu and Xi Jinping
Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
A nunnery demolished in Driru this September

Say no to China's Dalai Lama

China has no right to interfere in the selection of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Many Western governments are willing to challenge China on the issue of religious freedom but none so far have explicitly stated that they would not recognise a Chinese-appointed Dalai Lama.

This is a matter of fundamental importance to Tibetans. Please add your voice to our campaign to ensure that no Dalai Lama appointed by China is ever recognised.