The Chinese government has loosened restrictions that kept Tibetan monks in two provinces from openly revering the Dalai Lama, Radio Free Asia reported.

Authorities in Sichuan province announced people can display pictures of the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader, and ordered officials not to criticize him, the U.S.-funded RFA reported, citing an anonymous resident in Sichuan's Ganzi prefecture. In the past, monks had to keep pictures of the Dalai Lama hidden.

China seized control of Tibet in 1951 and has vilified the Dalai Lama, 77, as a separatist since he fled in 1959 to India, where he leads a government in exile. Chinese officials regularly levy diplomatic sanctions on countries that host him for visits, including Britain.