A young Tibetan who advocates for Tibetan language education has been detained and charged with “inciting separatism”, with no access to family and lawyer. Tashi Wangchuk, 30, has been detained by the Chinese authorities since January 27th 2016, in Yushu, Qinghai Province, in western China. Tashi could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
Tashi is an advocate for greater Tibetan language education in schools in Tibetan populated areas. Currently, Mandarin has become the sole language of instruction. Prior to his detention, he expressed on social media his anxieties about many Tibetan children being unable to speak their native language fluently, as well as the gradual extinction of Tibetan culture.
According to the International Campaign for Tibet, Tashi’s family was not informed of his detention until March 2016, when they received the document stating Tashi was charged with “inciting separatism”.
In 2015, the New York Times published an article and produced a short documentary video about his unsuccessful efforts to use the legal system to challenge government policies on language instruction. “A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice” reported his trip to Beijing to seek legal help in filing a lawsuit against local officials for the lack of Tibetan language education in schools. The video showed how no law firm was willing to take on his lawsuit, and media outlets refused to report on his case.
Amnesty International urges that the Chinese authorities ensure Tashi has regular, unrestricted access to his family and lawyer of his choice, without delay, and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment. The international human rights organization also calls on them them to immediately and unconditionally release Tashi, unless he is formally charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offense.
Ethnic Tibetans in China face discrimination and restrictions on their rights to freedom of religious belief, expression, association and peaceful assembly. Tibetan monks, writers, protesters and activists are regularly detained as a result of their peaceful activities. On March 19th 2015, Tibetan writer and blogger Druklo (pen-name Shokjang) was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by the Peoples’ Intermediate Court in Huangnan (Malho), Qinghai province, for “inciting separatism”, as a result of articles he wrote describing the increased presence of Chinese security officers ahead of a politically-sensitive Tibetan anniversary.
In recent years the Chinese government has enacted or drafted a series of sweeping laws and regulations under the pretext of enhancing national security. There are fears that they could be used to silence dissent and crack down on human rights defenders through expansive charges such as “inciting subversion” and “separatism”.
Harsh criminal sentences continue to be imposed in China on writers, bloggers, journalists, academics, whistle-blowers and ordinary citizens for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International has documented the misuse of the various charges of “separatism” and “terrorism” to violate the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and religion.
Torture and other ill-treatment remain endemic in all places of detention in China, and this risk is even greater for those who are not allowed access to their family or lawyer.