A total of 45 Tibetans set themselves on fire this year to protest Chinese repression in Chinese-occupied Tibet as "egregious" human rights abuses in China continued, according to an annual congressional report.
"A tragic and unprecedented wave of self-immolations across the Tibetan plateau indicated a new level of frustration with the Communist Party and government’s increasing cultural and religious repression," said the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China in its annual report made public on Oct. 10.
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"During the Commission’s 2012 reporting year, 45 (39 reported fatal) Tibetan self-immolations focused on political and religious issues reportedly took place, out of a total of 50 since February 2009."
The 284-page report highlights the continuing lack of political reform by Communist Party rulers who according to the Commission were more focused during the past months in dealing with a major leadership political scandal than answering growing demands by the Chinese people for more freedom.
"Egregious human rights abuses continued along with attempts to increase official capacity for repression," the report concludes.
Chinese human rights abuses violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the report said.
"On issue after issue, from revision of China’s Criminal Procedure Law to the government’s treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and other religious groups, Chinese officials continued to err on the side of repression or symbolic half-measures rather than pursue real, meaningful reform," said Commission co-chairmen Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) in a statement.
On Tibet, the report said China continued to block dialogue between the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, the longest cutoff since contacts resumed in 2002.
Self-immolations of Tibetans "accelerated sharply" in the past year and the practice spread from the Sichuan province into Qinghai and Gansu provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
"Reports of self-immolators’ calls for Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama’s return are concurrent with increasing Chinese government and Party use of legal measures to repress and control core elements of Tibetan culture, and with the China-Dalai Lama dialogue’s failure to achieve any sign of progress," the report said.
Party leaders refused to consider Tibetan grievances in a constructive way and have "handled the crisis as a threat to state security and social stability instead of as a policy failure," the report said.
Religious freedom for Tibetan Buddhists declined steeply as the government put in place new controls over Buddhists and monasteries that attempted to force "loyalty to the Party and patriotism toward China" while seeking to end the Dalai Lama’s influence in the region.
Party-controlled schools for Buddhism were opened and management committees were set up in monasteries and nunneries.
The report said two opposing trends highlighted human rights and rule of law developments in China over the past year. First, there was a growing demand among the Chinese people, often at great risk, for more freedoms and rights from leaders.
"At the same time, the Commission observed a deepening disconnect between the growing demands of the Chinese people and the Chinese government’s ability and desire to meet such demands," the report said.
Chinese leaders, preparing for a major leadership change next month, were more concerned with maintaining stability than addressing calls for reform being made throughout the country and on the Internet, the report said.
Worker strikes against low wages and poor working conditions were at the highest level in two years, and demonstrations were held in multiple industries in at least 10 provinces.
A new area of unrest was noted in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where protests broke out in April, June, and July over the government’s seizure of grassland for government and private development.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets from July to September to protest Beijing’s plans for a propagandistic national education policy. The protests forced the city-state’s leaders to back down.
The report also noted growing numbers of Chinese citizens using the Internet to post grievances and circumvent government controls on the flow of information. China currently has some 538 million Internet users, and 1 billion mobile phone users.
"While some major events either went unreported or faced heavy censorship in the state-controlled media, citizens flocked to the Internet, particularly China’s popular microblog services, in a bid to freely share and gain information about important issues of public concern," the report said.
Access to the Internet expanded over the past year but Beijing imposed new rules banning "rumors" and limiting anonymity in an effort to control public discourse, the report said.
One area of nationwide public discussion was the political scandal that ousted regional Communist Party chief Bo Xilai. He was removed after one of his deputies sought to defect to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, revealing corruption by Bo and his family and ending Bo’s prospects for promotion to the ruling nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, the collective dictatorship that rules China. It was the biggest political scandal since the 1970s.
"Repression against unsanctioned religious groups, including house churches and Falun Gong, continued, and relations with the Holy See deteriorated," the report said.
Authorities also imprisoned and detained Uyghur Muslims in the western Xinjiang province for engaging in what Beijing termed illegal religious activities.
Among those targeted were refugees fleeing communist North Korea who were detained and repatriated, despite the severe punishment they faced upon their return.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions remain commonplace and authorities hand down harsh prison terms for political writings, pro-democracy activity, and petitioning.
China continues to imprison Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and the Commission urged President Barack Obama and the Congress to demand their immediate release.
The daring escape from China of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng in April "exemplified the courage of the Chinese people and the lengths they will go to secure their rights," said Smith.
However, human rights activists say now that Chen has been in the United States, he has been prevented from speaking out by the Obama administration, which is seeking to avoid upsetting China’s communist government.
Smith also said photos of Feng Jianmei, "a woman kidnapped and forced to undergo an abortion," sparked "outrage across China" and triggered widespread criticism among the Chinese, who took to social media to expose and criticize China’s repressive population control policies.
The Commission is made up of nine senators, nine House members, and five senior administration officials.
The Commission maintains an extensive database of China’s political prisoners on its website, www.cecc.gov.