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UK-All-Party-Parliamentary-Groups-Tibet-2016London — Members of Parliament in the UK are calling on China to halt its crackdown on Buddhist institutes in eastern Tibet and have urged the British government to raise these concerns directly.

The statement issued by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet on 27 October to coincide with International Religious Freedom Day, expresses particular concern about the demolitions at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two of the largest monastic institutes in the world.

Chinese authorities want to halve the population of monks and nuns at the institutes by September 2017. In the case of Larung Gar, this means limiting the population to 5,000.

The homes of nuns and the elderly were reportedly the first to be torn down and resulted in the suicide of three nuns who protested against "the endless Chinese harassment of innocent Buddhists".

Local authorities dismissed criticisms of the demolition and called reports “totally untrue and irresponsible”. The Secretary of Serta County’s United Front Work Department, Palkho, said the project’s goal is: “to build a more orderly, beautiful, secure and peaceful land where people can practice peace of mind, study more precisely, and allow the elderly to live more comfortably, and at the same time accelerate the pace of urbanisation and development in Lo-Nor town.”

But a document issued by the local government and translated by Human Rights Watch describes how authorities plan to reduce the population and exert greater control through surveillance and management committees led by a majority of government officials.

Tim Loughton, MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, wrote in the statement: "We urge the Chinese authorities to permit all those evicted to return, for affected infrastructure to be rebuilt and for Buddhist leaders and residents to be able to run the affairs of their institutes without government intrusion.

"In addition, we call on the UK Government to raise these matters directly with China; to ask for an immediate diplomatic visit with unrestricted access to Tibet, including Larung Gar and Yachen Gar; to remind the Chinese Government of its duty to respect religious freedom as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in its own constitution; and, to make a public statement expressing serious concern over the situation at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar and the repression of religious activities in Tibet."

The US State Department also expressed concern in August, calling on the Chinese government “to cease actions that may escalate tensions and to pursue forthright consultations with the institute’s leaders to address any safety concerns in a way that does not infringe on the right of Tibetans to practice their religion freely.”

It would signal a significant change in policy for the UK government to publicly raise concerns about the demolitions. In June a parliamentary human rights commission heavily criticised the country’s relationship with China and said that since 2013 policy had shifted to place economic interests above other important concerns, including as human rights.

The commission said in a statement: “While we recognise the strategic and economic significance of China, we do not believe that it is in anyone’s interests for the United Kingdom government to be almost silent, publicly, on human rights, in light of such a grave deterioration.”

While it was former Prime Minister David Cameron who led the policy the commission highlights, his successor Prime Minister Theresa May is under intense pressure to build economic ties and trade deals with countries such as China after a referendum resulted in a vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

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