China bars lawyer of jailed Tibetan activist from visiting client as “tense” anniversary approaches

Tashi Wangchuk
Tashi Wangchuk
Tashi Wangchuk
20th February 2019

Imprisoned Tashi Wangchuk denied access to lawyer by Chinese authorities

The lawyer of a renowned Tibetan human rights activist has been stopped from visiting his client by Chinese authorities amid a “tense” situation as the political prisoner approaches one year behind bars, Tibet Watch and the activist’s lawyer, Lin Qilei have told Free Tibet.

Tashi Wangchuck was sentenced to prison by the Chinese government in May last year after being found guilty of “inciting separatism”. He has been in detention since January 2016, after the New York Times published an interview with him about his campaign against what he called the “systematic slaughter” of Tibetan language and culture by China.

22 May will mark one year after he was officially sentenced and put in prison. Since going to the prison which is in Dongchuan he has been unable to see Lin Qilei, who is appealing to the authorities for his release.

The activist’s family and Lin Qilei made a request on 15 January to visit him, but officials at the prison denied it citing the political and sensitive nature of the case. They said a higher authority was needed.

Lin Qilei told Free Tibet that the sentencing of Wangchuck is a shortcoming of the legal system in China which is not independent, but politically driven.  

“They want to make an example of him,” Lin said. “China is very angry about his case. Authorities are advising lawyers in China not to defend such cases and the lawyers association in Beijing has also urged lawyers to stay away from representing clients in similar cases.”

“I requested that he must be released. Of course he must be released because he’s not guilty.”

The Chinese human rights lawyer and Tashi's family were reportedly able to discover where he was being held only through Tashi's brother in law who is a high ranking government official, Tibet Watch said.

Lin doesn’t know how authorities are treating Tashi Wangchuk in prison. It’s possible that the family have been able to visit him but are under pressure from the government not to discuss visits publically, Tibet Watch and Lin Qilei told Free Tibet.

“As of the first anniversary we still don’t really understand what’s going on and we still don’t have any more information… The situation is tense and so holding an anniversary as well as giving a statement is very difficult in this case,” Lin said.

The human right lawyer added that there is strict surveillance and control and that the human rights situation in China is “poor” and deteriorating, while the climate for Tibetans and Uyghurs is“extremely poor.”

^Tashi Wangchuk's lawyer, Lin Qilei, talking to Free Tibet. February 2019. 

Qilei believes that the punishment for Wangchuk’s activism has been severe, in part because of his interview with The New York Times, at a moment when China is seeking to limit the influence of western media in the country.

“Because he accepted the New York Times interview, the Chinese Communist Party have made him a political prisoner. They’re making it into a way of scaring people off,” Qilei said.

“The human rights situation in China is becoming worse… The sentencing he received has had a big effect on Tibet and China as a whole.”

Qilei said he continues to call for Wangchuk’s early release, but that even after he’s freed China will be closely monitoring his every movement.