Tibetan language activist set to stand trial

Tibetan language campaigner Tashi Wangchuk
Tibetan language campaigner Tashi Wangchuk
18th January 2017

Tashi Wangchuk faces up to 15 years in prison after prosecutors conclude second investigation 

The Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk could soon stand trial having been held in detention for almost a year. The news comes after state prosecutors concluded their second investigation into the activist with proceedings likely to begin at any point soon.  

The 31-year-old entrepreneur and blogger Tashi Wangchuk, from Yushu, eastern Tibet, was detained in late January 2016 following a video interview with the New York Times. He was held for two months before being charged with "inciting separatism" and he faces up to 15 years in prison for his alleged crimes.

In November 2015 the New York Times published articles and a video about Tashi Wangchuk's efforts to highlight the lack of official support for the Tibetan language, a mother-tongue spoken by 6 million-plus people. The video shows him attempting to lodge an official complaint with Beijing authorities over the teaching of the Tibetan language and he is seen with a photograph of the Dalai Lama in his home as well as answering a question, put to him by the journalist, as to whether he planned to self-immolate. According to one of Tashi Wangchuk's defence lawyers,   the police were especially incensed by the video.

Chinese state prosecutors have recently concluded a re-investigation into Tashi Wangchuk’s case, having taken the unusual step of asking the court to return the case to them. This second investigation was concluded on 4 January and Tashi Wangchuk is now set to stand trial at a criminal court in Yushu located in Chinese-occupied greater Tibet. A date for the trial has not yet been set.

According to figures from the Chinese Supreme People’s Court, the country's conviction rate runs at around 99.9percent. California-based human rights group Dui Hua has stated that in particularly sensitive cases sentencing committees in China often decide the verdict in advance of the trial.

Tibetan language faces major threats

Tashi Wangchuk maintains that he does not espouse Tibetan independence and told the New York Times: "My goal is to change things a little bit, to push to preserve some of our nation’s culture." He also stated his support for China's President Xi Jinping who, he said, had "promoted a democratic and law-abiding country these last few years."

Officially China exercises a bilingual education system in regions where minority languages are spoken, including Tibet, but Chinese nevertheless dominates the curriculum. China has sharply scaled back the teaching of Tibetan in recent years, despite guarantees of cultural autonomy in the Tibetan regions.

Supporters of Free Tibet have been successful in calling for action to raise awareness of Tashi Wangchuk's case with letters reaching the highest levels of government worldwide, including the UK Foreign Secretary and the US Secretary of State. Tashi Wangchuk's case has been raised by the UK government with China's ambassador as well as the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue in November 2016. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs also raised Tashi Wangchuk's case with China. 


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