Tibetans push back against the lack of Tibetan language in local courts

Writing the Tibetan script during Tibet's inaugural calligraphy day, April 2017
Writing the Tibetan script during Tibet's inaugural calligraphy day, April 2017
17th January 2018

Support for a petition to China's Supreme Court came from inside and outside Tibet

Over 180 Tibetans have petitioned the People's Supreme Court of China raising concerns over the failure to use the Tibetan language on the official websites of people’s courts in autonomous prefectures.

The petitioners argue that the lack of Tibetan language, whether deliberate or a result negligence, is a dereliction of duties required by constitution, laws and related regulations. The current lack of Tibetan language resources leave those who do not know Chinese unable to read court announcements and communications, or understand what legal rights and protections are available to them.

Although the overwhelming number of Tibetans who signed the petition reside within Tibet, support also came from Tibetans in exile. They include the petitions originator Dolma Kyab, the editor of the Trimleng, a Tibetan language law blog.

The petition comes as some Tibetans express fears that their language is becoming increasingly marginalised. Mandarin is now taught to children in schools and has become increasingly essential in higher education and the workplace.

Detained for defending his culture

The petition also raises concerns about Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk, who is still awaiting a verdict despite his trial being adjourned two weeks ago.

After Tibetan classes were closed down in his local area, Tashi Wangchuk decided to dedicate his efforts to ensuring that all Tibetan children had access to Tibetan language instruction.  He kept an online blog in which he expressed his fear that future generations of Tibetans would grow up unable to speak their mother tongue.

These concerns, and his efforts to counter the lack of Tibetan instruction in his community, were also highlighted in a 2015 New York Times documentary ‘A Tibetan's Journey to Justice’. He was arrested shortly after this documentary was released online and has been in detention ever since.

His trial, which took place in his native Yushu County on 4 January, nearly two years after his arrest, was conducted in Mandarin.

Free Tibet's research partner Tibet Watch have provided a full translation of the petition:

To the Supreme People's Court,  People's Republic of China,

Our people, who do not understand the Chinese language, are unable to know and understand the policies and legal information of the party and government due to the lack of usage of the Tibetan language on the websites of people’s courts in autonomous regions and prefectures, under whose jurisdiction many cities and counties are administered.

This non-usage of  the Tibetan language in a number of people's courts is an apparent breach of  China's Constitution, the Law of Regional National Autonomy, the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, the Stipulations of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the Learning, the Use and Promotion of the Tibetan Spoken and Written Language and articles on the usage of Tibetan language in the people’s court and offices of ten Tibetan autonomous prefectures. Moreover, it is the primary cause of many Tibetans in autonomous regions being denied their rights and protections as they cannot understand the proclamations and announcements from prefecture courts which have been written in Chinese.

Article 6 of the Law on the Establishment of People’s Courts and Procuratorates stipulates that in autonomous regions, minority languages are to be used in the courts' official notifications and announcements. However, the absence of regional languages in a number of these people's courts raises suspicions that the Supreme People’s Court tacitly backs the move away from their usage in court proceedings.

However, as the Supreme People’s Court would never make an announcement in support of such move, there is no basis to substaniate our suspicions.

It  is not that  the higher people’s court in the Tibetan Autonomous Region or the ten autonomous prefectures and the counties thereof are unable to implement the National Constitution and law of the establishment of people’s court, nor is it that they are unable to implement or execute regulations on autonomous prefectures.

Though we can also assume that the people’s courts in autonomous prefectures would not execute or work against their own regulations, in reality the absence of  the Tibetan language from the official website is substantial evidence of them working against their own laws.

Given all these circumstances, until this confusion is addressed, we would like to pose these questions without hesitation to the Supreme People's Court of China. Our only expectation is to receive a response from them.

The questions are: 

 1. Is Tibetan a language that should not be used in Tibetan autonomous prefectures? If it is so, is there a legal backing for such non-usage? If it is not, why then is the Tibetan language not being used in all the websites of people’s courts in autonomous prefectures?

 2. Is the Tibetan language unnecessary in the case of the people’s courts in autonomous prefectures?

3. Do the Tibetans, such as nomads, have to suffer from a lack of rights just because they can’t read proclamations and announcements in the people’s court websites, which are written in Chinese, or do we consider it as dereliction on the part of people’s courts by not attending to the protection of people’s rights?

 Currently Tashi Wangchuk has been tried and is under investigation from the Yushul Tibetan Autonomous People’s Intermediate Court. He has been indicted and detained by authorities for expressing views against the government and court's lack of use of  the Tibetan language.

But not a single Tibetan language is being used or found to have been used in the Intermediate People’s Court of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The local government and court’s refusal to admit this omission is doing no good to Tibetans.

The time has come for the Supreme People’s Court of China to urgently pay attention to such matters in the Tibet region.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch


Please contact your embassy in China, urging them to maintain their pressure on the authorities over Tashi Wangchuk's case.