Rights groups yesterday called for Chinese authorities to stop forced demolitions at one of the world’s biggest Tibetan Buddhist institutes, saying the move was an attempt to “severely restrict” religious freedoms.
Authorities began destroying living quarters at Larung Gar Institute in Sichuan Province last week, according to a statement by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).
Last month, local government officials ordered the estimated 10,000 Buddhist monks and nuns living at the center, also known as Serthar, be cut to no more than 5,000, another overseas organisation, Free Tibet, said in an e-mail.
“These demolitions are part of a set of policy measures implemented by the Chinese government that severely restrict the religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists,” ICT president Matteo Mecacci wrote.
“This is a regressive and dangerous approach aimed at managing and controlling Tibetan Buddhism that sends a chilling signal to the outside world about the pressures faced by people seeking to peacefully practice their religion in the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he added.
Serthar, known as Seda in Chinese, is in an ethnically Tibetan area more than 4,000m above sea level and hundreds of kilometers from the nearest city.
The institute was founded in 1980 in an uninhabited valley and has since grown to become one of the world’s most important centers of Tibetan Buddhism, with monks, nuns and students living in small wooden homes sprawling over the hillsides surrounding the complex.
Larung Gar’s founder, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who died in 2004, was known for keeping a strict focus on Buddhism rather than politics at the institute, maintaining close relationships with both Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama.
Pictures circulated on social media showed bulldozers destroying colorful buildings at the institute, the ICT statement said.
An article in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper the Global Times newspaper said local officials were trying “to prevent fires and to ease crowd levels.”
The Buddhist academy’s survival was threatened in 2001, when armed police forced hundreds of nuns and monks to leave the site, destroying more than 1,000 homes to prevent them returning.
At the time police demanded that nuns sign documents denouncing the Dalai Lama and pledging not to return, according to overseas campaign groups, and Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was detained for a year after the incident.
In early 2012, Serthar was rocked by violence when police fired tear gas and began shooting into a crowd of hundreds of peaceful Tibetan protesters, exile groups said.
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