BEIJING (Reuters) - Reincarnations of “living Buddhas” in Tibet which fail to get Chinese government approval are illegal and invalid, China has announced as it tightens control of a region still deemed loyal to the Dalai Lama.
The regulations coincide with reports from an ethnically Tibetan region of the southwestern province of Sichuan that dozens of people had been arrested for using a traditional festival to call for the return of their exiled spiritual leader.
Critics say China continues to repress Tibetans’ religious aspirations, especially their veneration for the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whom China denounces as a “separatist”.
But the Dalai Lama is already 72 and some have accused China of delaying holding talks with him, waiting for him to die when they would name a new Dalai Lama of their own, loyal to Beijing.
In 1995, the Dalai Lama and China’s atheist Communist authorities chose rival reincarnations of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989. The Panchen Lama is the second-highest figure in Tibet’s spiritual hierarchy.
The 6-year-old boy anointed by the Dalai Lama swiftly disappeared from public view, leading human rights groups to dub him the world’s youngest political prisoner.
The new regulations, which come into force on September 1, are to “regulate the management of the reincarnation of living Buddhas”, the State Administration for Religious Affairs said in a statement on its Web site (www.sara.gov.cn).
“Temples which apply for reincarnations of living Buddhas must be legally registered venues for Tibetan Buddhism activities and capable of fostering and offering proper means of support to the living Buddha,” it said.
The regulations are to “guarantee citizens freedom of religion and respect Tibetans’ tradition of living Buddha succession”, it added.
In March, Tibet’s Communist Party chief said the party was the remote, mountainous region’s real “living Buddha” because, he said, it had brought an improvement in living conditions.
Tibetans still chafe under Beijing’s yoke, though.
Radio Free Asia said scores of Tibetans had been arrested in the Sichuan town of Litang after demonstrating for greater religious freedom and the Dalai Lama’s return.
The official Xinhua news agency said only one person had been detained, a villager called Runggye Adak, “for inciting separation of nationalities”.
“More than 200 villagers, who were unaware of the facts, gathered outside a detention centre on Wednesday evening and called for the release of Runggye Adak,” the report said, citing unnamed sources.
“All the villagers had left by Thursday after local government officials and police explained that Runggye Adak had breached the law,” it said, adding that nobody had been injured.
In 2002, a Tibetan lama was sentenced to death for a series of explosions in Litang and Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital.