Language campaigner disappears after international coverage

Tashi Wangchuk, arrested language campaigner 2016
Tashi Wangchuk. Photo: Gillies Sabrie for New York Times
11th March 2016

Request for Tibetan language education leads to arrest

A businessman from Yushu Prefecture has spent more than six weeks in prison after his attempts to persuade the local government to provide Tibetan language information in schools were featured in a lengthy article in the New York Times last November.

According to a new article in the NYT, his family report that he has been in police custody since January but they have not been allowed to see him and have not been informed of the reason for his detention. Tashi Wangchuk repeatedly expressed that his actions were not political and related solely to the preservation of Tibetan culture and he even offered praise to Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, any challenge to the authorities over matters to do with Tibetan identity risk being treated as "separatist" - a criminal offence carrying a potentially very lengthy prison sentence.

Language under threat

Tashi Wangchuk's campaign over language began when he found there was nowhere his young nieces could continue their study of Tibetan after monasteries in the area were forced to shut down their Tibetan classes. Having had no success lobbying local authorities, he sought advice on submitting a legal challenge to the policy. In theory, Chinese law guarantees respect and support for "ethnic" languages but in practice, Tibetan has become marginalised and is now often only taught as a second-language.

The downgrading of the Tibetan language is a source of deep concern to Tibetans. School students have protested against it and last year a hotel was forced to back down after banning the use of Tibetan. Tibetans also face the challenge, however, that fluency in Chinese is vital for securing good jobs. As a result, Han Chinese immigrants to Tibet are frequently able to out-compete Tibetans in the employment market.

See the 9-minute New York Times documentary about Tashi Wangchuk's personal campaign below

Take action

Tibetan prisoners are frequently cut off from the outside world. In such conditions they face a real risk of torture in prison. Call on China to stop torture in Tibet.