China steps up religious repression in Tibet, says rights group

DHARMSALA, India - China has tightened its campaign against religious expression in Tibet, with police raiding homes to seize religious objects and schoolchildren warned not to attend temples, a human rights body said Wednesday.

China has also prohibited government workers and Communist Party members in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, from displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama, said the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

The center is based in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala, where the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, runs a government-in-exile.

There was no immediate response from Beijing to the center's accusations. The new restrictions would significantly enlarge a four-year-old campaign against Buddhism and the Dalai Lama, who remains widely popular 50 years after Chinese troops entered Tibet and 41 years after he fled to India.

The campaign had previously concentrated on religious institutions such as monasteries.

The rights center said the Chinese government had issued an order in March prohibiting Buddhists from keeping religious objects such as altars and prayer flags at home.

Since then, the group said, 450 Tibetans have been fined $60 each in the raids. It said confiscated altars, statues and thangka paintings used in Buddhist prayer were thrown into a river.

Pupils at a Lhasa elementary school were warned against religious activity, and two pupils were expelled for praying for successful examination results, the group said.

A report by the London-based Tibet Information Network last week made similar charges, saying that the campaign against private religious activity in recent weeks had shifted beyond government workers and party members to all citizens of Lhasa.

The report also said there had been raids on homes.

It said Chinese officials maintained close surveillance in Lhasa during the important Tibetan festival of Saga Dawa in June, and that staff of Chinese government offices and schools were made to help officials identify Tibetans taking part.


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