The language advocate and former political prisoner Tashi Wangchuk was attacked on Saturday 19 August by a group of unidentified, masked men.
Free Tibet’s research partner Tibet Watch has established that Tashi Wangchuk travelled to Darlak County in eastern Tibet on the evening of 19 August with the aim of raising awareness about the disappearance of the Tibetan language from schools in favour of Chinese. He filmed a video near to Darlak County Nationality Middle School, which he posted on the Chinese social media platform Douyin before travelling to a hotel where he was hoping to stay.
At around 8pm, Tashi Wangchuk’s hotel room door was forced open and he was beaten and kicked by a group of men wearing masks for around 10 minutes. He believes he was followed to his hotel from the school.
Tashi Wangchuk begged the group to stop attacking him and called to the hotel owner to contact the police. Police arrived at his hotel room at around 9pm and took him to the police station for questioning, where Tashi Wangchuk stayed until around 11:30pm. During this meeting, police forced Tashi Wangchuk to erase photos and videos he had taken earlier that day from his phone.
After being rejected from the hotel he was staying and several other hotels, he instead went to Darlak County Hospital, where he asked the doctor to check his head. The doctor responded that the CT scanner was broken. Tashi Wangchuk spent the night on a stool on the first floor of the hospital, where he composed a detailed account of the day’s events, including his beating and what he referred to as “crime by gangs and illegal acts by government officials who break the law and cover for each other.”
Tashi Wangchuk, is from Kyegudo in Yulshul (Chinese: Yushu) Prefecture eastern Tibet. He came to international prominence after speaking to the New York Times in 2015 about his efforts to file a lawsuit against local authorities after local Tibetan classes were shut down. He also expressed fear for the future of Tibet’s language and culture. Tashi Wangchuk insisted on being named and identifiable in the New York Times’ article and video documentary, which were released in November 2015.
In January 2016, Tashi Wangchuk was arrested, held in a secret location and tortured. After spending two years in pre-trial detention, he was found guilty of “inciting separatism” and sentenced to five years in prison. For the duration of his detention and imprisonment, Tibet groups launched a global campaign, demanding that Tashi Wangchuk be released.
Following his release from prison in January 2021, Tashi Wangchuk has continued to advocate for authorities in Tibet to respect the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which provides for the teaching of what it calls “minority” languages, including Tibetan.
In January 2022, Tashi Wangchuk approached local government offices in Jyekundo to call for the preservation of the Tibetan language. This led to him being summoned for an interrogation session at the Public Security Bureau of Yushu. He has also travelled to other schools in occupied Tibet and collected textbooks showing the emphasis on Chinese-language instruction over Tibetan.
While Tashi Wangchuk carries out his peaceful language advocacy, authorities across occupied Tibet have imposed policies to marginalise or even eliminate the Tibetan language from the public sphere. This includes closing down Tibetan language schools and the Chinese government’s residential boarding schools policy, in which almost one million Tibetan children between the ages of four and 18 have been placed in boarding schools and pre-schools. In this environment, children have limited access to their families and are placed in a teaching environment that promotes the Chinese language and Chinese Communist Party-approved history over Tibetans’ own language and history. The policy has been criticised by the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which in March 2023 urged China to abolish the residential school system.
Information supplied by Tibet Watch