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Tuesday, January 12, 1999 Published at 06:51 GMT

China announces "civilizing" atheism drive in Tibet

The Chinese Communist Party has launched a three-year drive to promote atheism in the Buddhist region of Tibet, saying it is the key to economic progress and a weapon against separatism as typified by the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

The move comes amid fresh foreign reports of religious persecution in the region, which was invaded by China in 1950.

Xiao Huaiyuan, the head of the Party propaganda department in Tibet, told a meeting of the regional committee that the new campaign would "help peasants and herdsmen free themselves from the negative influence of religion".

"Intensifying propaganda on atheism is especially important for Tibet because atheism plays an extremely important role in promoting economic construction, social advancement and socialist spiritual civilization in the region," Xiao said in the speech, which was reported by Tibetan TV on January 10th.

The campaign would push "people of all ethnic groups in the region to raise their ideological and ethical quality, to learn a civilized and healthy life style and to strive to build a united, prosperous and civilized new Tibet." It was also an "important measure to strengthen the struggle against separatists and resolutely resist the Dalai clique's reactionary infiltration".

Xiao called on Party members at all levels to pursue the campaign through the media and public organizations, with the emphasis on promoting popular science.

"In launching the propaganda drive, we should start with concrete issues related to the masses' production and everyday life.

We should bring into full play the advantage of modern media in providing speedy information to broad areas," he said.

"We should combine the power of the press and publications departments with the strengths of science and technology management departments, scientific research institutes, medical and health organizations, and science and technology associations." "We should vigorously publicize, in newspapers and through radio and TV stations, popular scientific knowledge, the application of technical expertise, knowledge of disease prevention and health care, and general knowledge of medical matters and hygiene." The TV, which showed Xiao addressing a large audience of Party members, added that officials from across the Communist-controlled regional government had said they would submit plans of action by the end of the month.

"They pledged to... promptly draw up specific plans and measures for carrying out the propaganda drive in the next three years and to submit the plans and measures to the regional party committee's propaganda department before the end of January," it said.

"They also pledged to make protracted and relentless efforts to continuously enhance the quality of propaganda on atheism." According to the London-based Tibetan Information Network (TIN), two Tibetan monks were arrested by police in September of last year when they tried to contact UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson during her visit to the region.

The two were picked up shortly after Robinson's departure and one of them, Ngawang Kyonmed, was "beaten severely", the French news agency AFP quoted TIN as saying on January 12th.

The monks' present whereabouts is unknown.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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