One year on, Tibetan language advocate still detained by China, risks harsh sentence
Free Tibet press release
Free Tibet today condemned the continued detention of Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk who, as of today, 27 January, has spent an entire year in detention without trial. Free Tibet is calling for the charges against Tashi Wangchuk to be dropped and for his immediate release. The organisation remains concerned that he might face an unfair trial at any moment.
Tashi Wangchuk (1), a 31-year old Tibetan businessman and language advocate, was arrested by Chinese police in his native Jyekundo County in Yushu, eastern Tibet (2) in January 2016. He has been in detention ever since. He is at risk of torture so long as he remains in detention (3).
In March 2016 Tashi Wangchuk was charged with “attempting to split the Chinese state”, a state security crime under Chinese law. If found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Tashi Wangchuk’s arrest came just over a month after he appeared in an article and short documentary in The New York Times about his peaceful advocacy of Tibetan language teaching (4). The documentary followed Tashi Wangchuk as he travelled to Beijing, where he attempted to file a lawsuit against the Yushu authorities for their failure to support Tibetan language teaching.
On 4 January 2017, a second investigation into Tashi Wangchuk’s case concluded, paving the way for a trial. Although no date is set, a trial could take place at any time. There are fears that such a trial will be neither fair nor transparent (5).
The vast majority of defendants in trials in China are found guilty; according to national statistics, the conviction rate in China in 2015 was 99.92% (6).
Prior to his arrest, Tashi Wangchuk insisted that his language advocacy was not political, and that he was not campaigning for Tibetan independence, rather to preserve Tibet’s culture.
Tashi Wangchuk’s case has attracted international attention, with both the previous US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, and the European Union raising his detention last December on Human Rights Day (7). A demonstration calling for Tashi Wangchuk’s release is to be held by Free Tibet and other Tibet organisations on 27 January at the Chinese Embassy in London (8).
Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of Free Tibet said: “Tashi Wangchuk’s arrest and continued detention are an outrage and defy the most basic notions of justice. Tashi Wangchuk carried out a peaceful campaign with a goal that nobody could reasonably dispute – that children should be allowed to learn their own language. He also acted entirely within the framework of Chinese law. His arrest is blatantly political and shows how deeply afraid China is of the strength of Tibetan culture and identity.
“He has now been in detention for an entire year, and Free Tibet and other Tibet and human rights groups have been watching closely all this time. China is well aware of the international scrutiny on Tashi Wangchuk’s case and must also know that it will not stop until he is released. We will not tolerate continued detention, baseless charges and the possibility of an unfair trial. Tashi Wangchuk must be freed immediately.”
John Jones, Free Tibet
T: 0207 324 4605
(1) For further background on Tashi Wangchuk's case, see ‘New details emerge about Tashi Wangchuk's status’, Free Tibet, 1 July 2016: https://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/new-details-emerge-about-tashi-wangchuk%E2%80%99s-status;
'Tibetan language activist set to stand trial ', Free Tibet, 18 January 2017 https://freetibet.org/news-media/na/tibetan-language-activist-set-stand-trial
(2) Jyekundo County, Yulshul Prefecture (Chinese: Yushu), eastern Tibet (Chinese: Qinghai Province)
(3) In December 2015 the United Nations Committee Against Torture found that that the practice of torture and ill-treatment was “still deeply entrenched in [China’s] criminal justice system”, which “overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions”. This included “numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans.” (UN Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the Fifth Periodic Report of China, 3 February 2016. See relevant paras; 20, 40 https://www.savetibet.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/CAT_C_CHN_CO_5_22477_E.pdf)
(4) Tibetans Fight to Salvage Fading Culture in China, New York Times, 28 November 2015
(5) Neither Tashi Wangchuk’s indictment nor any evidence of him having committed a crime have been made public. During Tashi Wangchuk’s year in detention his lawyers have only been able to visit him twice (in June and September 2016). He had no access to his family until September 2016. He is also at risk of torture while in detention.
(6) Amnesty International, ‘Further Information: China: Tibetan Education Advocate Indicted: Tashi Wangchuk’, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa17/5510/2017/en/
(7) Human Rights Day 2016 Statement, Embassy of the United States to China, 10 December 2016 www.beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/ambassador-human-rights-day-statement-2016.html;
'EU Delegation to China statement on International Human Rights Day', Gov.uk, 9 December 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/eu-delegation-to-china-statement-on-international-human-rights-day
(8) For further details, see: 'Protest in London: One year on, China still holding Tibetan language advocate in detention', Free Tibet, 26 January 2017 https://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/protest-london-one-year-china-still-holding-tibetan-language-advocate-detention