BEIJING An India-based human rights watchdog has denounced China for human rights abuses in Tibet last year and predicted that religious repression would get worse in 2007.
New religious affairs regulations which took effect in January were "designed to harness loyalty to the state from the monastic community and to stamp out the Dalai Lama from the hearts and minds of Tibetan people", the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
"In light of the new ... regulations, religious repression in Tibet seems set to escalate further in 2007," the Dharamsala-based center said in its annual report on human rights in the Himalayan region. A copy of the report was sent to Reuters.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's god-king, fled to Dharamsala in northern India after an abortive uprising against Communist rule in 1959, almost a decade after the Chinese People's Liberation Army took over the region.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment. But an increasingly confident China regularly defends its rule in Tibet, saying Communist rule ended centuries of serfdom and brought prosperity to the underdeveloped region.
Last month, Zhang Qingli, the hardline Communist Party boss in Tibet, labeled the Party a "living Buddha" for Tibetans.
The center said it had documented the arrests of 26 Tibetans last year for alleged political activities and that there were currently 116 known Tibetan political prisoners. It gave no comparative figures.
"The year 2006 saw a host of sad events unfold. The Chinese authorities in Tibet did not show any sign of let-up," the center said. "Arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment continue to be appalling as ever in Tibet."
The Dalai Lama has said he wants real autonomy, not independence, for his homeland.
But Tibet's regional chairman, Qiangba Puncog, said on Thursday the chances of the Dalai Lama returning were slim unless he gave up his pursuit of independence in word and in deed.
The center cited the Nangpa Pass incident in which Chinese troops shot dead at least two of a group of Tibetans crossing the China-Nepal border last September.
In a video conference, Chinese police vowed to launch a campaign to "strike hard against illegal crossings" in the first half of 2007, calling the campaign part of measures to crack down on "separatists" to ensure stability in the region.
A total of 2,445 Tibetans escaped China and reached Dharamsala last year, most of them teenagers and novice monks and nuns seeking religious education, it said.
The group also faulted the Qinghai-Tibet railway, the world's highest railway line which China opened in July, as "a political tool designed to wipe out the Tibetan identity" and enhance Beijing's grip over the predominantly Buddhist region.
China says the railway is meant to accelerate Tibet's modernization.
Other worrying signs included Chinese official discrimination against Tibetan graduates when filling civil service jobs, the spark for a rare public protest last October, the center said.