Tibet, Xinjiang lawmakers, political advisors counterattack US rights report

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Chinese lawmakers and political advisors from Tibet and Xinjiang said Friday that cultural and religious freedom is fully respected and protected according to law in the two ethnic regions, fighting back against an annual U.S. human rights report.

"If you go to Tibet, you will find scripture halls or shrines in almost all believers' families, and see prayer banners or cairns of stones with scripture texts almost everywhere," Padma Choling, chairman of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, told Xinhua on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the country's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), in Beijing.

"Monasteries in Tibet are always thronged with believers turning the prayer wheels or paying homage to Buddha. Every year, more than 1 million worshippers make the pilgrimage to the regional capital Lhasa," he said.

The central government has allocated 700 million yuan (103 million U.S. dollars) and a great deal of gold and silver since 1980s for the maintenance of monasteries in Tibet, he said.

Currently, Tibet has more than 1,700 religious venues and 46,000 monks and nuns, whose religious beliefs are well protected by law, he said.

NPC deputy Dawa Tashi, commissioner of Tibet's Ali Prefecture, dismissed the "cultural repression" in the U.S. report.

He said in the old days, only the upper class nobles and monks were entitled to learn Tibetan language, but the serfs who accounted for 95 percent of the Tibet's population had no such right.

"After the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, the central government ensured the Tibetan people's right to learn Tibetan language and Chinese language through legislation," he said.

Dawa Tashi also pointed out that it is very "funny" for the U.S. State Department to say in the report "Tibetans repatriated from Nepal reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold and severe beatings, and were forced to perform heavy physical labor."

"Ali Prefecture shares a long border line with India and Nepal, and it is true that there are some people who illegally cross the border," he said.

"But when they are caught, they will be handled in strict accordance with law. The fact is that they will not suffer electric shocks or else; on the contrary, we will arrange accommodation and vehicles for them to be sent home," he said.

"The report is utterly groundless. I strongly advise those who wrote the report visit Tibet personally before drawing a conclusion," said Lhagba Puncog, secretary-general of the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Center.

As a scholar from the Tibetan ethnic group, Lhagba Puncog goes back to Tibet for research for two months every year.

"I witness the increasing improvement in the living standards of Tibetan people, and they fully enjoy freedom of religious beliefs," he told Xinhua on the sidelines of the annual session of the country's top political advisory body, or the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee.

Local government statistics showed that Tibet's gross domestic product (GDP) reached 43.7 billion yuan in 2009, up 170 percent from that in 2000 and posting an annual growth of 12.3 percent over the past nine years.

Berkri Mamut, a CPPCC member and director of Shanshan County Islamic Association in Xinjiang, Muslims can practice their religion normally.

"They can freely attend religious service in mosques or practice fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan," he said.

"Every year, the government will help make arrangements for about 12,000 Muslims nationwide who go to the holy city Mecca for hajj, of which almost 5,000 are form Xinjiang," he said.

"It is ridiculous to say there is 'cultural and religious repression' in Xinjiang," he added.

NPC deputy Jume Tahir, vice president of the Xinjiang Islamic Association, said the U.S. report distorts facts in Xinjiang's religious activities.

"Every day, many people come to my mosque for praying. I myself was elected NPC deputy to participate in the management of state affairs. That is the fact," said Jume Tahir, also Imam of the Id Kah Mosque, the largest of its kind in China, in the border city of Kashgar.

Yiliduosi Aihetamofu, a CPPCC member and a physician of Tatar ethnic group from the No. 1 Hospital affiliated to the Xinjiang Medical University, said what he has seen in Xinjiang is the fast economic development and improvement of people's lives.

"We Tatar people has a population of less than 5,000, but our cultural traditions have been preserved well," he said.

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