China must release and quash conviction of Tibetan cultural rights defender Tashi Wangchuk
22 May 2020 marks two years since Tashi Wangchuk (扎西文色) was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by a court in Qinghai province. He was convicted of “inciting separatism” and is imprisoned at the Dongchuan Prison in Xining, capital of Qinghai.
Tashi Wangchuk is a Tibetan cultural rights defender from Jyekundo County in Kham (Yushu, Qinghai Province). In the years prior to his detention, Tashi Wangchuk was alarmed by the Chinese government’s increasing restrictions on the use and teaching of the Tibetan language in schools. Tashi Wangchuk advocated for Tibetans’ right to use and develop their own language, which is guaranteed under the Chinese Constitution as well as under international human rights law. In 2017, the International Tibet Network awarded Tashi Wangchuk the ‘Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Medal of Courage’ to recognize “his courage and dedication to promoting Tibetan human rights and justice for the Tibetan people.”
In May 2015, Tashi Wangchuk travelled to Beijing in an attempt to file a lawsuit against local officials for failing to preserve the use of Tibetan language in local schools, in predominantly Tibetan areas. In September 2015, he was interviewed by journalists from the New York Times and two months later was quoted in an article by the newspaper on the erosion of Tibetan culture and appeared in an accompanying short video.
On 27 January 2016, Tashi Wangchuk was detained in Jyekundo County. He was tried on 4 January 2018, and sentenced on 22 May 2018 to five years’ imprisonment. His appeal was rejected by the Qinghai Provincial Higher People’s Court in July 2018 and the original sentence upheld. Since early 2019, Tashi Wangchuk has repeatedly been denied access to his lawyers by the authorities, preventing them from making any further appeals.
In August 2018, China appeared before the UN committee responsible for monitoring compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), to which China is a state party. The CERD Committee questioned China about the arbitrary detention of Tibetans and other minorities, including Tashi Wangchuk. The Committee also expressed concerns that “Tibetan language teaching in schools in the Tibet Autonomous Region has not been placed on an equal footing in law, policy and practice with Chinese, and that it has been significantly restricted.”
China has since ignored repeated international appeals for Tashi Wangchuk’s release. In February 2017, UN human rights experts sent an urgent appeal to China, raising concerns about his detention as well as “his limited right to counsel, the denial of presenting the evidence against him and the irregularities in the criminal investigation.” In November 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled his detention to be in violation of international norms and called for his release. In February 2018, the UN experts wrote to China again, expressing serious concerns that the charges against Tashi Wangchuk criminalise his “human rights advocacy, in particular on issues pertaining to the protection of the linguistic and cultural rights” of Tibetans.
His sentencing was rebuked by UN experts, the European Union, and the European Parliament. The EU has regularly called on China at the Human Rights Council to release Tashi Wangchuk and other human rights defenders, most recently in September 2019 and in March 2020.
Front Line Defenders believes the detention and sentencing of Tashi Wangchuk is in direct reprisal for his legitimate and peaceful advocacy for Tibetans’ cultural rights. It calls on China to release him immediately and unconditionally quash his conviction, and comply with UN experts’ call to accord him with an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations as remedies for his arbitrary detention.