Imprisoned Tibetan rights activist unable to see lawyer as he passes one year since trial

Tashi Wangchuk. CTA. 2018
Tashi Wangchuk. CTA. 2018
Tashi Wangchuk. CTA. 2018
10th June 2019

Chinese authorities have prevented Tashi Wangchuk from seeing his lawyer in prison, as the Tibetan activist passes one year behind bars since his trial

The Chinese government has continued to prevent Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk from seeing his lawyer, as the Tibetan finishes his first year in prison since his trial last year.

Tashi's human rights lawyer, Lin Qilei told Free Tibet that he has not been able to see or speak to his client since his request to visit him in February was denied by authorities.

Lin said that Tashi Wangchuk’s father has died while the activist has been behind bars. The lawyer asked a prison guard to pass the news to Tashi which he reportedly agreed to do.

On 22 May, Tashi Wangchuk was found guilty of “inciting separatism” and sentenced to five years in prison. This sentence included the two years that he had already spent in detention following his arrest in January 2016.

His arrest followed the publication by the New York Times of an interview with him about his campaign against what he called the “systematic slaughter” of Tibetan language and culture by China.

Tashi Wangchuk before his arrest
Tashi Wangchuk before his arrest

In August 2018, he was moved to his current location, Xining Prison. 

His siblings were able to visit him in November, and Lin said it’s possible they have visited since but are under pressure from the Chinese government not to talk about it publicly.

Lin Qilei told Free Tibet in February that the sentencing of Tashi Wangchuck is a shortcoming of the legal system in China, which is not independent but politically driven.  

“They want to make an example of him,” Lin said at the time. “China is very angry about his case. Authorities are advising lawyers in China not to defend such cases and the lawyers association in Beijing has also urged lawyers to stay away from representing clients in similar cases.”

“As of the first anniversary we still don’t really understand what’s going on and we still don’t have any more information… The situation is tense and so holding an anniversary as well as giving a statement is very difficult in this case,” he added.

Restrictrictions on access to Tashi mean his health remains unknown to his lawyer as he passes one year behind bars.

Lin told Free Tibet, “He’s not guilty of a crime and must be released.”

Who is Tashi Wangchuk?

Tashi Wangchuk is a Tibetan shopkeeper and language advocate from Kyegundo County in the Kham region of Tibet, administered by China as the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province. He became a language advocate because of his concern  about a 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.

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 leaving court after his trial in 2018
Tashi Wangchuk leaving court after his trial in 2018

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. 

TAKE ACTION

Tashi Wangchuk's case has generated enormous international pressure. We need to continue pushing for his release. If you have not already done so, please contact the Chinese authorities and urge them to immediately free him.