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China charges Tibetan education advocate with inciting separatism

April 4, 2016

By Edward Wong

New York Times, March 30, 2016 - A detained Tibetan entrepreneur who advocates bilingual education in schools across Tibetan regions of China has been charged with inciting spearatism, according to an official police document.

The entrepreneur, Tashi Wangchuk, 30, is being held at the main detention center in Yushu, the town in Qinghai Province in western China, where he lives with his elderly parents. Mr. Tashi could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

Mr. Tashi was detained on January 27 and held in secret for weeks. His relatives said they were not told of his detention until March 24, though Chinese law requires that a detainee’s family be notified within 24 hours. A document stating the charge against Mr. Tashi, which a police officer gave the family, and a photograph of which was seen by The New York Times, was dated March 4.

Before his detention, Mr. Tashi had written on his microblog that Tibetans needed to protect their culture and that Chinese officials should aid them in doing so. He has argued for greater Tibetan autonomy within China, but none of his known writings have called for Tibetan independence, which he has said he opposes.

The family said it had not been able to find a local lawyer to represent Mr. Tashi. Officials have not yet announced a trial date.

Mr. Tashi’s case has attracted international attention. Officials at the State Department are aware of his detention, and a representative of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression said the group was starting a petition to call for his release. President Obama may raise human rights issues with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, when Mr. Xi visits Washington this week for a summit meeting on nuclear issues.

As an advocate for Tibetan culture, Mr. Tashi has been most vocal about language education, saying that schools should adopt a true system of bilingual education so that Tibetan children can become fluent in their mother language.

Mr. Tashi has said that the dearth of effective Tibetan language education, and the fact that the language is not used in government offices, violates the Chinese Constitution, which guarantees cultural autonomy for Tibetan and other ethnic regions.

Mr. Tashi runs a shop in Yushu and sells goods from the region to buyers across China on Taobao, an online platform run by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant. In 2014, Alibaba chose Mr. Tashi to be featured in a video for the company’s investor roadshow before a high-profile initial public offering.

Late last year, Mr. Tashi was quoted in two articles in The New York Times on Tibetan language and culture. He was also the main subject of a documentary video by The Times about his attempts to use the legal system to compel officials to improve Tibetan language education.

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