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China trying set to try language rights advocate for ‘inciting separatism’

Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan entrepreneur and education advocate, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of inciting separatism. (Photo courtesy: NYT)
Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan entrepreneur and education advocate, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of inciting separatism. (Photo courtesy: NYT)

(TibetanReview.net, Jan01, 2018) – After being in detention for nearly two years, China is to put on trial on Jan 4 a Tibetan man for allegedly “inciting separatism” for having campaigned for the Tibetan people’s right to be taught their own language. Tashi Wangchuk, a 32-year-old online marketing business owner in Jeykundo (also known as Kyegudo, Chinese: Jiegu) County of Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai Province, was arrested on Jan 27, 2016 and faces, according to his lawyers, up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

Party officials generally decide the outcome of political trials in China, with the accused being almost always convicted for the alleged crimes. So Tashi is seen as having practically no chance of being acquitted.

Tashi was charged with “inciting separatism” on Mar 24, 2016 after the New York Times covered his pursuit by legal means the Tibetan people’s right to learn and use their own language. He had cited China’s Constitutional provisions and officially declared policy measures in support of his campaign.

For this purpose Tashi had, in 2015, travelled to Beijing and tried to sue the local Chinese authorities for denying Tibetan people the right to be taught in their own language. He had also written blog posts on the subject.

A New York Times article and an accompanying video report titled as ‘Tibetans Fight to Salvage Fading Culture in China’ in Nov 2015 quoted him as saying, “My goal is to change things a little bit, to push to preserve some of our nation’s culture… The entire Tibetan ethnic nationality and culture is at risk of disappearing.”

Tashi had scrupulously avoided politics in his campaign and invoked China’s top leadership in Beijing against local leaders in an attempt to vindicate his linguistic rights call.

Tashi’s lawyers, who had only limited access to him during his pre-trial detention, had stated that he was tortured and suffered extreme inhuman and degrading treatment during the first week of his detention.

A number of international rights groups have called for his release during the long period of his detention. They included Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and PEN America as well as Tibet-related groups such as the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, International Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet. They called on China to drop the charges and release him. Five UN Special Procedure mandate holders have jointly expressed “serious concern at (Tashi’s) arrest, the initial incommunicado detention and the continued detention.”

Also, in Dec 2016, the United States ambassador to China, Max Baucus, released a long statement on political prisoners that noted that Tashi was “in jail for his peaceful advocacy of Tibetan language education.”

Tashi had previously been detained twice: first, for trying to travel to India for pilgrimage in 2012, and second, for posting comments condemning local government authorities in a land grab case.

Tashi’s case has already taken an unusual turn earlier. In Mar 2016, police officials said in a document that they were investigating Tashi for inciting separatism, noted the nytimes.com Dec 30. After receiving material from the police, prosecutors went to court to seek a formal indictment and trial. However, they later asked the court to return the case back to them for further investigation.

Tashi used to run a shop in central Yushu, called Kyegudo in Tibetan, and sold goods from the region to buyers across China on Taobao, an online platform run by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant. In 2014, Alibaba featured Tashi in a video for the company’s investor roadshow before an initial public offering.

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