Today, not one foreign government officially recognises Tibet as a distinct country. It is officially part of China and is known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). However, the TAR on modern Chinese maps is less than half of the Tibetan plateau and the territory that was traditionally Tibet. Only about one third of the Tibetan population live inside the TAR.
Ever since the invasion of Tibet began in 1949, life for Tibetans has become increasingly difficult. In 1951 China annexed its sparsely populated neighbour under the pretext of unification and of “liberating” the peasants from a feudal, monastic system. The Communist government initiated massive re-education programmes, religious practice was suppressed, thousands of monasteries were destroyed and thousands of monks were imprisoned.
On 19th March 2008 Tibetans all over the world marked the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. On this day a peaceful demonstration led by monks and joined by lay people slowly transformed into one of the major uprisings since the 1987 and 1988 demonstrations in Lhasa. The Chinese government deployed soldiers and military personnel to violently suppress the protestors. Many of the protestors were killed or imprisoned and many more injured. More than 6,000 Tibetans were arrested in 2008 and 228 were confirmed dead. More than 1,000 people still remain in various prisons across Tibet.
Major monasteries and nunneries were reported to be under virtual lock-down after the spring 2008 protests, a situation that persists to date. Over the last three years, the Chinese government’s intolerance towards any political activities by the Tibetan people has escalated and they have intensified their “patriotic re-education campaign” throughout Tibet affecting not only monks and nuns, but anyone who is deemed to be against the regime.
Various methods of repression are used, such as regular arrests and detentions, with many deaths under torture being recorded in prisons, promotion of the Chinese language over Tibetan in schools, restriction on travel for Tibetans as well as the day to day religious practice and management of monasteries being tightly controlled by the Chinese authorities who often place “politically reliable” monks and nuns in key religious centres. Faced with such aggressive tactics, many hundreds of Tibetans have fled the country to escape the repression.
The situation inside Tibet remains critical with the recent and growing number of self-immolations highlighting the utter frustration and ultimate despair of those who have to live under such a repressive regime in occupied Tibet.