In arbitrary detention for over three years for advocating Tibetan language education, Tashi Wangchuk continues to maintain his innocence and seeks to appeal against his five-year conviction on trumped up charges of ‘inciting separatism’.
According to an update published by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk’s lawyer Lin Qilei was not allowed to meet with his client on 15 January during a visit to Dongchuang Prison in Xining, Qinghai Province. Lin had sought the meeting to discuss details of Tashi Wangchuk’s appeal notice. After being made to wait for an hour, prison authorities told Lin that since the case was ‘sensitive’, approval was required from the provincial Political and Legal Committee.
Chinese law provides the right to appeal to all victims of miscarriage of justice. Article 180 of the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law states that if the defendant or his or her legal representatives refuse to accept a judgment passed by a local court at any level, he or she has “the right to appeal in writing or orally to the People’s Court at the next higher level.” It further provides that the “defendant shall not be deprived on any pretext of his right to appeal.”
Despite legal provisions, the right to appeal has long remained a mirage due to the flawed criminal justice system and judicial proceedings marred by political and ideological considerations of the Chinese state and the party leadership. In practice, the right to appeal is not more than a paper exercise. Judges in lower courts frequently seek the opinions of higher courts before making decisions on cases before them. This undermines the right of appeal.
The almost non-existent right to appeal is further compromised by the existence of the Political and Legal Commission (PLC) that has branches at provincial, prefecture and county level of the Chinese state and the party. Controlled by the party central committee, the PLC and its local branches Political and Legal Committees are responsible for political and legal affairs at all levels of government. They oversee all legal enforcement authorities, including the judiciary, procuratorate and police force; all the Party committees of provinces, municipalities, counties and autonomous regions establish respective politics and law commissions. They are staffed by court presidents, the heads of law enforcement agencies, officials of the justice ministry or bureau, and other legal organs. They can influence the outcome of cases, particularly when the case is sensitive or important.
Moreover, party groups within the courts enforce party discipline and the party approves judicial appointments and personnel decisions. Local governments are able to exert influence on judges because they control local judicial salaries and court finances and also make judicial appointments. Both the procuratorate and the people’s congresses (China’s rubber stamp legislative bodies) have the power to supervise the work of judges and the courts and to call for the reconsideration of cases. Because the procuratorate has a dual role as both prosecutor and supervisor of the legal process, it has a conflict of interest in exercising its function of supervising the courts in breach of UN Basic Guidelines on the role of prosecutors. In breach of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and through the enactment and amendment and application of legislation code and the annual lawyer licensing procedure, the Chinese government has taken severe actions to prevent and discourage defence lawyers from representing clients in sensitive cases in a matter, which is consistent with their professional duties and the basic guidelines.
From prolonged pretrial detention to a delayed court verdict influenced solely by ideological considerations, Tashi Wangchuk’s plight exemplifies not just the general situation of all Tibetan prisoners of conscience but also the lawless rule of the Chinese government in the name of promoting ‘socialist rule of law’, a euphemism for unrestrained abuse of power by the Chinese Communist Party.
Under president Xi Jinping’s autocratic rule, China’s emasculated judiciary has become mere stooges of the party forced to safeguard the interests and power of the Chinese state and the party leadership. Early last year an instruction issued by president Xi at the Central Political and Legal Work Conference in Beijing stressed the party’s “absolute leadership over political and legal systems” and called on the political and legal staff to fulfill their major duties of safeguarding “political security, and “social stability”. Speaking at a forum for lawyers in January last year, China’s minister for justice Zhang Jun said strengthening party influence among lawyers was “the core part and fundamental measure” in deepening reform of China’s legal system.
Given the current dismal state of rule of law and absence of judicial independence, the chances of Tashi Wangchuk getting any justice are dim even if his lawyer were able to lodge an appeal notice. However, the high-profile case of Tashi Wangchuk also provides a rare opportunity for Chinese authorities to project an international image of law-abiding and civilised modern state by genuinely implementing its own laws such as the 2012 revision to its Criminal Procedure Law to advocate “respecting and protecting human rights” as a legal principle of criminal procedures in China’s practice.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy calls on China to release Tashi Wangchuk from arbitrary detention and restore all his human rights with immediate effect. Tashi Wangchuk’s arbitrary detention proves that the so-called development of Tibetan culture publicised by Chinese leaders in their white papers and overseas propaganda tours is aimed at deceiving the international community. Since his arbitrary arrest in January 2016, Tashi Wangchuk has been subjected to a series of human rights violations including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, forced confession and unfair trial. No one deserves to be punished for advocating the right to speak and use one’s mother tongue. The continued arbitrary detention of Tashi Wangchuk is an affront to humanity’s conscience and yet another moral disgrace for Chinese government.