The Chinese government is establishing management committees in every monastery in Tibet to strengthen its controls, amid a spate of suicides by Buddhist monks and reports of growing unrest among them.
A management committee has been established in every monastery in the Tibet Autonomous Region to oversee general monastery affairs, an official in-charge of local religious affairs told the official media in Beijing.
Headed by government officials, the so-called Monastery Management Committee also consists of monks and nuns who carry out duties including tourist reception, cultural relic protection and assisting locals with religious affairs, said Luobu Dunzhu, a director with the office of religious affairs under the Tibetan United Front Work Department.
"It is under the mission of establishing harmonious monasteries that we are stepping up these committees," Luobu told state-run Global Times.
Tibet began establishing monastery committees in November and managed to expand them to the regions' 1,787 monasteries early this year, according to Luobo, who said the number of staff members at the committees could reach as many as 30 for some big monasteries and only a few for smaller ones.
According to one estimate Tibet has over 40,000 Buddhsit monks. Tensions have been high in Tibetan regions ahead of the Tibetan New Year next week and the fourth anniversary of the March 14 riots in Lhasa in 2008.
The Tibetan New Year falls on February 22. The Tibetan administration has already beefed up security measures following a spate of suicides by monks and nuns, demanding the return of the Dalai Lama.
Two riots were reported in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture during the Chinese New Year amid foreign media reports that several monks had set themselves ablaze.
Lhasa's ruling Communist Party chief Qi Zhala who visited monasteries on Tuesday and urged monastery committees to increase vigilance and create a "harmonious and stable" social environment for the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China to be open in a few months, the Tibet Daily reported.
The Congress is expected to be held in November to elect a new leadership to rule the country for the next 10 years.
Qi said that monastery committees must further raise vigilance and recognise the "important role it has played in maintaining stability," the report said.
Local officials have been told that severe action would be taken against them if they fail in preventing any untoward incidents.
Luobo said that one of the duties of the committees' staff is to take charge of the monks' health care insurance, which now covers 80 per cent of the regions' monks and nuns.
In response to concerns that monastery committees might disturb religious practices, Luobu said "monks and nuns have the freedom to perform their religious rituals and the establishment of such committees is aimed at ensuring such practices".