Human Rights Press Award for Reuters

Human Rights Press Award for Reuters Investigates “The Long Arm of China” | Dalai Lama | Shugden. see full story at 

The Dorje Shugden movement gets clandestine support from the Communist Party. Their joint campaign to discredit the Tibetan spiritual leader is paying off, especially in Britain.

ALDERSHOT, England – Thousands of Buddhists from all over Britain packed into the Aldershot football stadium southwest of London on June 29, quietly waiting under a hot sun to see the Dalai Lama.

Just outside the turnstiles, another group of Buddhists awaited the Tibetan spiritual leader.

“False Dalai Lama, stop lying, false Dalai Lama, stop lying!” they chanted over and over through megaphones, drummers pounding out a rhythmic tempo. When he spoke, only snippets of his remarks could be heard above the cacophony.

“China must be thrilled at this,” said Gary Beesley, a British devotee of Tibetan Buddhism who had travelled from Manchester to hear the Dalai Lama. “They really must love it.”

The Aldershot demonstration was part of a pattern: Noisy protesters are following the globetrotting Dalai Lama almost everywhere he goes, denouncing him in terms that echo the invective heaped upon the Nobel Peace laureate by China’s ruling Communist Party.

On the surface, the commotion appears to stem from an arcane, centuries-old schism in Tibetan Buddhism. But a Reuters investigation has found that the religious sect behind the protests has the backing of the Communist Party. The group has emerged as an instrument in Beijing’s long campaign to undermine support for the Dalai Lama, a political exile who commands the loyalty of millions of Chinese citizens and whom Beijing accuses of plotting secession for Tibet.

The protesters are members of a sect that worships Dorje Shugden, a deity its devotees revere as a protector. The Dalai Lama discourages the practice, advising his followers that Dorje Shugden is a malevolent spirit. The Shugden worshippers accuse the Tibetan spiritual leader of persecuting them for their beliefs.

This quarrel was once confined to the temples and monasteries of the remote Tibetan plateau and exile communities in India. But it has now been exported to the streets and stadiums of North America, Europe and Australia.

Tibetan and foreign protesters say the demonstrations are organized by an umbrella group called the International Shugden Community, which in the United States is registered as a charity in California. Members of this group say they are fighting purely for religious freedom and deny China plays a role in the demonstrations.

“There is no connection at all between Dorje Shugden and the Communist Party,” said Nicholas Pitts, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for the International Shugden Community who frequently appears at its protests.

But a leaked internal Communist Party document shows that China is intervening in the dispute. The party document, issued to officials last year, said the Shugden issue is “an important front in our struggle with the Dalai clique”.

A monk and prominent former member of the Shugden movement who was based in India and Nepal, Lama Tseta, told Reuters that China paid him and others to plan and coordinate the activities of the sect’s followers overseas. Tseta said officials from the Communist Party’s powerful political special-operations unit, the United Front Work Department, control the effort and allocate funding. These officials direct the protests through senior Shugden monks in China and the Tibetan exile community in India and the West, who are the spiritual leaders of the sect, he said.

“The Chinese are using them as a tool to make the Dalai Lama look fake, to achieve their own ends, to undermine Tibetan Buddhism and to fragment Tibetan society,” Tseta said in an interview.

SHUGDEN DEFECTOR: Lama Tseta, pictured here near his home in Connecticut, said China paid him and others to plan the sect’s activities abroad when he was a prominent member in the Shugden movement. REUTERS/Paul Mooney

These senior Shugden monks are treated as honored guests at official functions in China and publicly embraced as patriotic allies in Beijing’s campaign to crush support for the Dalai Lama, according to eyewitness accounts, reports in China’s state controlled media and postings on Dorje Shugden websites.

A core group of ethnic Tibetans living abroad who follow these senior monks spearhead the demonstrations. They travel the world to harangue the Dalai Lama. Some attend government functions in China, and have contact with Chinese diplomats at Beijing’s embassies and consulates. But they deny that China plays any role in the protests. They say they are purely demonstrating for religious freedom and pay their own way.


The majority of protesters, though, are foreign recruits like Pitts, mostly Westerners.  Lama Tseta said Chinese officials had instructed senior Shugden monks to enlist these foreigners in the demonstrations. Reuters has no independent evidence of direct Chinese financing of the protests. But a senior Indian Interior Ministry official said Indian authorities are aware that the Shugden sect receives funds from China.

“We also keep a close watch on them because they get funding from China via Nepal,” said the official, who supervises the activities of India’s internal security agency, the Intelligence Bureau, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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