Political Prisoner Tashi Wangchuk denied appeal

23rd August 2018

The language campaigner was sentenced to a five year prison term in May, charged with "inciting separatism"

Today, Liang Xiaojun, the lawyer of polticial prisoner Tashi Wangchuk, tweeted the news that his client's appeal had been denied on 13 August. The language rights advocate's five year prison sentence is to be upheld. His tweet stated that “both the argument from Tashi Wangchuk himself and the defending statement from the lawyers were not accepted.” Tashi Wangchuk is now due to remain in prison until 2021.

Tibet Support Groups have reacted in anger to the news. Tenzin Jigdal of International Tibet Network, a network of 170 campaign groups around the world. stated:

China’s rejection of Tashi Wangchuk’s appeal is a travesty of justice and shows a disdain for the international concern that the case has raised. Our admiration for Tashi’s courage and resilience has reached new heights and we vow to continue pushing for his immediate and unconditional release.


Who is Tashi Wangchuk?

Tashi Wangchuk is a 33-year old Tibetan shopkeeper and language advocate from Kyegundo County in the Kham region of Tibet (Ch: Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province). He became concerned over the lack of Tibetan-language education when authorities forced local Tibetan language classes to close, leaving his two teenage nieces with no means of learning their native tongue.

A still from the New York Times documentary: Tashi travelling to Beijing
A still from the New York Times documentary: Tashi travelling to Beijing

He spoke with the New York Times in late 2015 about his attempts to promote the teaching of Tibetan, resulting in a news article and a video documentary on the New York Times website.

He insisted that his interview be on the record despite the tight restrictions on freedom of speech in Tibet, a nation living under a Chinese military occupation since the 1950s. He also emphasised that his language advocacy was non-political and that he did not wish to criticise the Chinese government or call for Tibetan independence.

His attempts to persuade the Chinese government to guarantee Tibetan language instruction were conducted through official channels and were focussed on ending the decline of the Tibetan language and the threat this posed to Tibetan culture. Nevertheless, in January 2016 he was arrested and held in secret. While in detention Tashi Wangchuk was isolated from his family and subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

Tashi Wangchuk did not stand trial until January 2018, spending almost two years behind bars after his arrest. His eventual trial took place behind closed doors - journalists and foreign diplomats who showed up to the court in an attempt to observe the proceedings were denied entry. However, we do know that the New York Times documentary was screened as a key piece of evidence against Tashi Wangchuk.  A few months later, on 22 May 2018 he was found guilty of “inciting separatism” and sentenced to five years in prison, which included the time he served in arbitrary detention.

Since his arrest, he has become one of Tibet’s most high-profile prisoners, with Tibetans, Tibet campaignershuman rights organisationsUnited Nations expertslinguists, and governments all calling for his release. 

His case was most recently raised by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August, when experts pressed Chinese officials for an explanation of his arrest. The delegation responded by claiming that Tashi Wangchuk was arrested due to acts towards the "succession of the state".

Why was his appeal denied?

The court upheld Tashi Wangchuk's original sentence of "inciting separatism". Translated court documents obtained by Free Tibet reveal the argument given by the judge.

"The original sentence stated that the defendant, Tashi Wangchuk, underwent the interview and was actively involved in the video, delivering statements that undermine the solidarity of the nation and the unity of the state. The defendant subjectively had the intention of inciting separatism, and objectively undertook actions to incite separatism. Therefore, his actions have constituted the crime and he should be punished. The crime accused by the prosecutor is established. The defense of Tashi Wangchuk and his lawyers go against both the law and the truth, and were not accepted."

"A citizen can raise criticism and give suggestions to any governmental institution or official, but they can’t be fabricated or distorted. Tashi Wangchuk, as an individual with the full capacity to bear legal responsibility, distorted the truth while being interviewed by foreign media and criticized the policies towards the nation's minorities, therefore publicizing the discourse of undermining national solidarity and state unity. His actions have intentionally violated the legal bottom line of freedom of expression, therefore his appeal argument and defense can’t be accepted."

Copies of the court documents obtained by Free Tibet
Copies of the court documents obtained by Free Tibet

Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, Director of Free Tibet, commented:

With China having recently received criticism from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and facing its third Universal Periodic Review in November, Beijing has missed an opportunity to correct a serious injustice. Instead they’ve made it blatantly clear that they will use the language of national security to suppress any activity they dislike. They seem to be quite comfortable bending the rule of law to suit their own purposes.

Tashi Wangchuk is just one of a number of Tibetans who have been convicted for the crime of “inciting separatism”. This vaguely worded state security law is routinely used by the occupying Chinese authorities against any Tibetans whose activites they deem undesirable. Tashi Wangchuk was convicted under this statute despite the fact that the rights for ethnic minorities are guaranteed by Chinese law, including the right to use their own language.

According to the database maintained by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy there are an estimated 2,000 Tibetans political prisoners who remain in jail, many of them for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, their cultural and religious rights, sending information about human rights abuses to the outside world and other acts which are protected under international law.


Take Action

Tashi Wangchuk has committed no crime under Chinese or international law and should be immediately freed. Send a message to the Chinese Minister of Justice urging them to work for Tashi Wangchuk’s release.