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Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk marks third year behind bars

February 7, 2019

Radio Free Asia, January 28, 2019 - Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk marked his third year behind bars on Sunday after being convicted on a charge of separatism for promoting the use of his native language in Tibetan areas of China, amid renewed calls by rights and media organizations for his release.

Wangchuk was sentenced on Jan. 4, 2018 by a court in Qinghai’s Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture following a controversial trial in which the prosecution based its case on a video report by the New York Times documenting the activist’s work.

Wangchuk  was arrested on Jan. 27, 2016, two months after the Times ran its report, and was handed a five-year prison term on Jan. 4, 2018 by a court in Qinghai’s Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

His sentence of five years will include his time already spent in detention.

In the video, Wangchuk is seen traveling to Beijing to press his case for the wider use of the Tibetan language in Tibetan schools. Prosecutors used this as evidence at his trial, despite his repeated disavowals of separatism and his stated intention to use the Chinese law to protect the Tibetan tongue.

Speaking in a recent interview with RFA’s Tibetan Service, James Tagger—Deputy Director for Freedom of Expression at the writers’ organization PEN-USA—said that “We at PEN America have been repeatedly vocal about the fact that Tashi Wangchuk did not deserve to be sentenced even for a single day, given that his peaceful advocacy was not in any way criminal.”

“This third year anniversary of his detention coming up will certainly be, I’m sure, a painful date for his family,” Tagger said.

“But it should also represent a painful moment for anyone anywhere who is concerned about minority language rights and about our right as human beings to peacefully advocate for our communities and to express ourselves and our culture.”

Also speaking to RFA, Francisco Bencosme—Asia-Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International in Washington D.C.—noted that following Wangchuk’s incarceration, his lawyers have repeatedly been denied access to their client.

“This really shows how far the Chinese government is willing to go to harass and prevent Tashi from getting the right to counsel that he deserves, even according to Chinese law,” Bencosme said.

“This shows the ruthless lengths to which the Chinese authorities are going in order to silence those [whom] it fears,” he said.

And in an email this week to RFA, New York Times Company spokesperson Danielle Rhoades slammed Wangchuk’s sentence, calling the court’s move “an action that appeared intended to silence critics, impede the free flow of information, and ultimately deprive Chinese citizens of information.”

Writers, singers, and artists promoting Tibetan national identity and culture have frequently been detained by Chinese authorities, with many handed long jail terms, following region-wide protests against Chinese rule that swept Tibetan areas of China in 2008.

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