23 August 2018
China blocks release of jailed Tibetan rights activist Tashi Wangchuk

We are appalled to learn today that a Chinese court has rejected the appeal of imprisoned Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk. [1] This once again demonstrates that the Chinese Communist Party and justice system are content, before the eyes of the world, to force an innocent man to endure prison despite him never having committed a crime. The decision is an affront to justice and a wasted opportunity for Beijing to have reversed some of the damage it has done.

Having had his appeal rejected, Tashi Wangchuk will have been returned to prison, where he is scheduled to remain until 2021. We are committed to continue pushing for his immediate and unconditional release. We urge all those governments and UN mechanisms who have expressed concern about his case to accelerate their calls for his release and to make strenuous efforts to visit Tashi in prison.

Despite having committed no recognisable crime under Chinese or international law, Tashi Wangchuk has so far spent over two and a half years behind bars. During this time, he has become one of Tibet’s most high-profile prisoners, with Tibetans, Tibet campaigners, human rights organisations, United Nations experts, linguists, and governments all calling for his release.

His case was most recently raised by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August, when experts present once again pressed Chinese officials for an explanation for his arrest. The delegation responded by claiming that Tashi Wangchuk was arrested due to “inciting separatism”.

Statement signed by (in alphabetical order)
Free Tibet
Human Rights in China
Human Rights Watch
International Service for Human Rights
International Tibet Network
PEN America
Safeguard Defenders
Tibet Society UK

Background Information to Tashi Wangchuk’s case:
Tashi Wangchuk was arrested in January 2016. Prior to his arrest he had carried out a peaceful campaign to urge the Chinese government to ensure that every Tibetan had access to education in their native Tibetan language.

Tashi Wangchuk is a 33-year old Tibetan shopkeeper and language advocate from Kyegundo County in the Kham region of Tibet (Ch: Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province). He became concerned over the lack of Tibetan-language education when local 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. [2] He insisted the interview be on the record, despite the tight restrictions on freedom of speech in occupied Tibet.

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 focused 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 did not stand trial until January 2018, almost two years after he was first arrested. During his trial, which took place behind closed doors, the New York Times documentary was screened. 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.

Tashi Wangchuk is one of a number of Tibetans who have been convicted of “inciting separatism” and other vaguely worded state security laws that the occupying Chinese authorities routinely use against Tibetans. This occurs, despite the fact that the rights for ethnic minorities are guaranteed by Chinese law, [3] [including the right to use their own language.

There are an estimated 2,000 Tibetans political prisoners who remain in jail, [4] many of them for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, their cultural and religious rights, sending information about human rights abuses to the outside world and other acts which are protected under international law.

1. Liang Xiaojun tweeted: “The second instance of Tashi Wangchuk’s case was announced in Yushu City Detention Center on 13th August. His family was not allowed to hear the sentence. The adjudication from Qinghai High Court was received recently, and both the argument from Tashi Wangchuk himself and the defending statement from the lawyers were not accepted at all. The second instance has upheld the same sentence. After the trial, Tashi Wangchuk was allowed to meet his family.” https://twitter.com/liangxiaojun/status/1032466215036284928?s=21

Alison Reynolds
Executive Director
International Tibet Network