China must stop persecuting Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) strongly condemns the continued persecution of the well-known Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk, who had been released from prison in 2021 after serving five years’ prison term on the trumped-up charges of “inciting separatism”.

Since his release from unjust imprisonment, Tashi Wangchuk has faced persistent restrictions  and limitations on his movement and activities even as he continued to advocate for the promotion and protection of the Tibetan language. 

The latest persecution faced by the Tibetan language rights advocate demonstrates that Chinese authorities will go to any lengths including engaging in mobster-style tactics to silence human rights defenders and activists.

On the evening of 19 August, while travelling from Sershul (Ch: Shiqu) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, to Darlag (Ch: Dari) County in Golog (Ch: Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, he was followed by a vehicle. Subsequently, local police issued an order preventing local hotels from accommodating him. 

When he attempted to check into a hotel, a group of four or five individuals, with their heads covered, arrived suddenly and started beating him up. As a result, he was denied lodging. Later when he went to seek medical attention for his injuries, he was denied treatment, leaving him without any medical care or accommodation throughout the night.

The following day, yet another group of persons appeared from nowhere and began beating him up before forcibly shoving him into a vehicle where he underwent an intensive two-hour harassment, intimidation and thorough search of his body and belongings.

Although the identities of the criminal gangs involved in the above mentioned incidents remain unknown, it is evident that the local Chinese police and state security agents were involved in this mob-style persecution of Tashi. Furthermore, Tashi’s movements have been subject to consistent surveillance, allowing law enforcement agencies to maintain awareness of his location. Given these circumstances, it is highly plausible that law enforcement personnel played a pivotal role in orchestrating the collective assault and physical aggression against him.

Tashi pursued his advocacy efforts to promote the Tibetan language and encourage its use within Tibetan areas in accordance with international human rights law, the Chinese constitution, and the Regional National Autonomy Law. In particular, the domestic legal frameworks incorporate provisions to safeguard and promote the Tibetan language among Tibetan nationalities. He was unjustly imprisoned for five years when all he did was to call for the use of the Tibetan language in government offices and educational institutions in Tibet. 

We call on the international community including the UN, governments and civil society organisations to issue a resolute and robust response to such egregious instances of human rights violations and hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions.

The Chinese authorities must conduct thorough investigations against the local Chinese police and the criminals involved in subjecting Tashi Wangchuk to severe physical assaults. The actions of the local police from imposing undue surveillance to forcing local businesses from accommodating Tashi must also be accounted for.

Detailed account of intimidation directed at Tashi Wangchuk

On 19 August, after reaching the Darlag Intermediate School in Golok from Sershul County, Tashi Wangchuk took photos in front of both Darlag primary and intermediate schools and posted them on social media. Later that evening around 8, when he went to look for a hotel accommodation, a group of persons with their heads covered physically assaulted him. Injured, Tashi approached the local police to urge them to investigate the matter. At around 11:30 pm, his complaint was heard, albeit only briefly. The same evening, he searched for a room for more than an hour but to no avail. On constant requests to the police, the police took him to a hotel, but the owner told him, ‘Here we have stringent restrictions. If I rent you a room, in the future, I will face punishment; my whole family is dependent on this small hotel.’ When Tashi Wangchuk went to seek a room in a bigger hotel, the hotel owner told him there were no rooms available. Furthermore, he was shown a letter issued by the Public Security Bureau officers and was told that the officers told the hotel staff ‘not to give room to anyone today’.

When he hoped to wait till dawn in the hotel reception area,the PSB officers called the hotel and threatened that ‘if Tashi Wangchuk is not kicked from the hotel immediately, the hotel will face problems’. After this, he left to seek medical attention in a hospital in Darlag (Ch: Dari) County, a Tibetan doctor came and told him, ‘You must leave the hospital immediately’. Not getting any room or medical treatment, he spent his night on a bench in the hospital injured, untreated.

On 20 August, Tashi Wangchuk continued to face restrictions due to constant surveillance. His attempt to visit a monastery was thwarted. As he took respite in a nearby pasture,  a plain clothed police officer approached him and told him it was prohibited to sit there. 

Shortly thereafter, an anonymous group of individuals arrived, subjecting him again to physical assault and subsequent threats. He was forcibly placed into a vehicle at a deserted intersection. There, he was detained for more than two hours.

The group detaining him was equipped with three vehicles. After a while, an additional vehicle arrived, seemingly associated with the leader of the aforementioned group. Tashi Wangchuk’s body, belongings, and mobile phone were thoroughly searched and frisked. And as part of the usual intimidation tactic, threats were issued to delete all contents from his phone.

Ever since his release from prison, Tashi Wangchuk has endured an unceasing series of threats, physical assaults, and restrictions. On 17 January 2022, officers from the Yushul Public Security Bureau (PSB) abducted him secretly and subjected him to an extensive and intense interrogation that extended for a duration of three hours. During this interrogation, he was repeatedly questioned about the responsibilities he thinks he bears in connection to the preservation and promotion of the Tibetan language.

Likewise, on the 7 and 8 April, Tashi Wangchuk encountered an incident in which the police compelled him to vacate a hotel in Rebkong under the pretext of Covid prevention. Throughout this period, his appeals went unanswered by the relevant authorities. It’s worth noting that his social media accounts accessible within China had been suspended from this time.

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