Human rights in China

Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk sentenced to 5 years by China over New York Times video

Detained in 2016, he had spoken in Mandarin about Tibetans’ fear that their culture is being wiped out

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 2:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 10:27pm

China has sentenced a Tibetan language activist to five years in prison for inciting separatism after he appeared in a documentary video produced by The New York Times.

Tashi Wangchuk’s lawyer Liang Xiaojun told Associated Press that a judge in Qinghai province passed down the sentence on Tuesday.

Tashi, 32, was detained in 2016, two months after the video and accompanying article were published, and went on trial in January. He had pleaded not guilty. Liang said Tashi planned to appeal.

The case highlights the authoritarian government’s sensitivity to issues involving ethnic minorities – especially Tibetans and Xinjiang’s native Uygurs – as well as the risks Chinese citizens run when criticising government policies to foreign media.

Tibetan-language activist faces court in China on separatism charges after appearing in New York Times video

“Today’s verdict against Tashi Wangchuk is a gross injustice,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“He is being cruelly punished for peacefully drawing attention to the systematic erosion of Tibetan culture. To brand peaceful activism for Tibetan language as ‘inciting separatism’ is beyond absurd.

“Tashi’s treatment exposes the ruthless lengths to which the Chinese authorities will go to silence those who ask the government to stop cultural assimilation. Tashi must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

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In February, a group of UN human rights experts condemned the detention of Tashi and called for charges against him to be dropped.

In the documentary, Tashi, who was also described as a shopkeeper, speaks extensively in Mandarin about the “pressure and fear” felt by Tibetans and his worry that their culture is being wiped out through the steady erosion of their language.

He notes that 140 Tibetans have died from self-immolations since 2009 and says he believes they were also protesting the disappearance of their culture under Beijing’s rule.

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“I want to try to use the People’s Republic of China’s laws to solve the problem,” Tashi says in the documentary.

He adds that if the courts refused to hear his case, it would prove that issues surrounding Tibetan rights would not be solved through the Chinese legal system.

“If this comes to an end and I’m locked up and cannot proceed with what I’m doing, and they force me to say or do things I don’t want to say, I will choose suicide,” he says.

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He is shown seeking redress through official channels as he travels to Beijing, where he tries unsuccessfully to file a lawsuit against local officials and convince journalists at China’s powerful state broadcaster CCTV to cover his case.

Minority rights are protected under China’s constitution, as is the right to sue government officials, he says in the video.