Chinese authorities are reportedly evicting at least 1,000 monks and nuns at two Tibetan Buddhist centres, New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

At the end of July, Chinese authorities started forced demolitions at Larung Gar Institute in Sichuan province, one of the largest Buddhist teaching institutes in the world.

Destroyed structures are shown at Larung Gar as demolition work begins, July 20, 2016.. Photo: RFA.

In June, local government officials ordered the estimated 10,000 Buddhist monks and nuns residing at the centre, also known as Serthar, to be reduced to no more than 5,000 by September 30, 2017. “The numbers of expelled persons and demolished buildings should basically correspond,” said a local government order to the monastery translated by HRW.

Demolitions at Larung Gar. Photo:

Chinese authorities cited modernisation, public safety, fire risk and improving tourist paths as some of the reasons for the demolitions.

In May, Cui Baohua, a senior Sichuan official, told members of the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy that they must upgrade basic facilities to safeguard public safety and to let the monastery integrate into modern life and modern civilisation, reported China Tibet Online, an official news site. Cui asked the monks and nuns to support the work.

Demolitions at Larung Gar. Photo:

An estimated 2,000 dwellings have been removed since demolitions began, said the NGO. Although some nuns will be allowed to move into new dormitories, it received a report that up to 2,000 nuns had been required to leave and return to their hometowns.

Forced return to Tibet

Since about April, up to 1,000 nuns at Yachen Gar, a monastic encampment in Sichuan, were forced to leave and return to their homes in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), according to HRW.

“TAR officials have pressured the families of nuns from the TAR to return immediately to their registered homes or face serious punishments, such as confiscation of family identity cards… An informed source said that nuns who have returned from Yachen Gar to their homes in the TAR have been told that they are not allowed to join any monastery or nunnery there, or carry out public religious rituals or practices,” said the NGO.

Larung Gar in 2014. Photo: Wikicommons.

Crackdown on religious freedoms

It says the Chinese government should resolve genuine health and safety concerns without infringing on the rights to religious belief and freedom of movement.

“The authorities’ strategy of demolitions, expulsions, threats, and restrictions on religious practice is clear-cut evidence of an attack on religious freedom, not the actions of a genuinely concerned government trying to address a housing problem,” said Sophie Richardson, the NGO’s China director.

Rinzin Dolma and Tsering Dolma, two nuns at Larung Gar who reportedly committed suicide over demolitions. Photos: RFA.

The demolitions have reportedly prompted suicides. Two nuns at Larung Gar reportedly committed suicide in late July and early August, leaving behind notes referring to harassment of those studying at the institute and to the demolitions.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.