Dhondup Wangchen

Tibetan filmmaker who escaped Tibet in December 2017

Protesters outside the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, 2009, demanding the release of Dhondup Wangchen

Protesters outside the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, 2009, demanding the release of Dhondup Wangchen. (Photo France-Presse/Getty Images)

Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen was arrested in March 2008. He had just completed filming a series of interviews with Tibetans who had bravely voiced their feelings on the upcoming Beijing Olympics and the Chinese occupation.

The interviews were smuggled out of Tibet and made into a remarkable film, Leaving Fear Behind, which has been screened in more than 30 countries and was secretly shown to journalists on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.

Arrest and Prison

Dhondup Wangchen was arrested in March 2008 and held in a hotel, where Chinese security forces subjected him to beatings while also depriving him of food, water, and sleep.

On 28 December 2009, he was sentenced to six years in prison for “subversion” following a secret trial in Xining. The Chinese authorities in Xining did not inform Dhondup Wangchen’s relatives where the trial was taking place or the verdict.

Dhondup’s wife Lhamo Tso said “I appeal to the court in Xining to allow my husband to have a legal representative of his own choosing. My children and I feel desperate about the prospect of not being able to see him for so many years. We call on the Chinese authorities to show humanity by releasing him. My husband is not a criminal, he just tried to show the truth.”

During his incarceration, he was subjected to prison labour and six months of solitary confinement.

On 6 April 2010, Dhondup was transferred to Xichuan Labour Camp in Qinghai Province, which is renowned for its harsh conditions, and he has since contracted Hepatitis B.

Escape to Freedom

Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen

Dhondup Wangchen receives the International Press Freedom Award in 2012. (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Dhondup Wangchen received widespread international support from organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and in September 2012, he was awarded the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In June 2014 he was released, having completed his sentence, and expressed his hope to recover his health and to join his family in the United States.

This became a reality three years later when, in December 2017, Dhondup Wangchen managed to escape Tibet before flying to San Francisco on Christmas Day. Upon arrival in the United States, he was reunited with his wife and children, who were granted political asylum there in 2012.

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