Free Tibet launches appeal for language campaigner

Tashi Wangchuk. Photo: Gillies Sabrie for New York Times
Tashi Wangchuk. Photo: Gillies Sabrie for New York Times

12th April 2016

Tashi Wangchuk could face up to 15 years in prison

Free Tibet today launched an urgent appeal for Tashi Wangchuk, a businessman and language rights campaigner from Yushu, eastern Tibet who was arrested in January 2016. He could now face up to 15 years in prison after it was revealed last week that he had been charged with “inciting separatism”. Free Tibet is calling on supporters to write to their Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging them to call for his immediate release.

Tashi Wangchuk, 30, became an advocate for bilingual education throughout Tibet after local monasteries were forced to shut down their Tibetan classes, leaving him unable to find a school where his niece could learn the Tibetan language. He became concerned that Tibetan children were not able to reach fluency in their own language. He began to express these fears in a blog and travelled to Beijing in the hope of filing a lawsuit ensuring that authorities provided Tibetan language teaching. These attempts were the subject of a nine-minute documentary by the New York Times, bringing international attention to Tashi Wangchuk’s cause.

Throughout his campaign Tashi Wangchuk notably avoided calling for Tibetan independence and even praised China’s President Xi Jinping’s leadership. He insisted in an interview with the New York Times that he was solely concerned with preserving Tibet’s culture, and that Chinese officials should aid Tibetans in these efforts.

Despite this caution, he was arrested on 27 January and it is likely that his courageous decision to seek international attention through the New York Times has provoked China into making an example of him. His family were not permitted to visit him and were not informed of the reason for his arrest until he was charged with “inciting separatism”. A date has not yet been set for his trial.

Free Tibet has already contacted the foreign ministries of a number of major countries to ask them to use their influence to secure Tashi Wangchuk's release. We urge our supporters also to contact their Ministers of Foreign Affairs to press them to take action.

“A systematic slaughter of our culture”

Despite China’s constitution guaranteeing cultural autonomy in Tibetan regions, the teaching of Tibetan has been rolled back in recent years in what Tashi Wangchuk called “a systematic slaughter of [Tibet’s] culture”. In 2012 officials in China’s Qinghai and Gansu Provinces practically eliminated the teaching of Tibetan in primary and secondary schools, which were ordered to use Chinese as the main language of instruction. That same year China’s Human Rights Action Plan was released. The plan contained the guarantee that that China’s “ethnic minorities” had the right to use and develop their own languages.

Take action for Tashi Wangchuk

Please write to your Foreign Minister, calling on them to urge the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Tashi Wangchuk.