08/08/2020

China: Stop using coronavirus excuse to continue imprisoning Tibetan language rights advocate

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Photo: savetibet.org

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) condemns the latest attempt by Chinese authorities to block imprisoned Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk’s appeal against his five-year prison term by giving the excuse of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Tashi Wangchuk had been sentenced to five years in prison on the trumped-up charge of “inciting separatism” in May 2018 by the Yushu Intermediate People’s Court in Qinghai Province following which he decided to appeal the sentence through his lawyers Lin Qilei and Liang Xiaojun.

On 27 April, Lin Qilei and Liang Xiaojun were not allowed to meet with their client Tashi Wangchuk who is imprisoned at Dongchuan Prison in the provincial capital of Xining. The lawyers were told that all lawyer-client meetings had been stopped indefinitely in all the prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Terming the coronavirus excuse used by the prison authorities as “illegal”, Lin Qilei noted that the authorities always had new excuses up their sleeve to block the meeting.

In an update posted on his Twitter page on 30 April, Lin Qilei wrote, “The Qinghai Provincial Prison Administration still refuses to allow lawyers to meet with Tashi who is serving a prison sentence. On April 27, 2020, we contacted the Political Office of the Qinghai Provincial Prison Administration but were informed that at present all prisons had stopped lawyers from meeting [their clients] due to the epidemic problem. [And that the decision to allow] a meeting with Tashi can only be known after the epidemic is over! It seems that officials always have new excuses, but these are all illegal excuses.”

Screenshot of Lin Qilei’s Twitter post

This is the third known attempt made by the lawyers to meet Tashi Wangchuk in order to move forward with the appeal process. Last year in August, the lawyers were asked to produce a “letter of introduction” from the Beijing Justice Bureau before they could gain access to Wangchuk. The demand for this document was illegal and clearly aimed at obstructing the appeal.

In January last year, Lin Qilei was refused a meeting with Tashi Wangchuk and was ordered to obtain approval from higher authorities because the authorities deemed the case “sensitive”.

The latest excuse of coronavirus pandemic to block Tashi Wangchuk’s appeal is unconvincing given that the situation is reportedly improving all over the People’s Republic of China with travel restrictions lifted in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We demand that the Chinese authorities put an immediate end to illegal delaying tactics and allow Tashi Wangchuk to meet his lawyers. By denying all requests from his lawyers for a meeting, Chinese authorities are violating relevant domestic legal provisions as provided for in the Criminal Procedure Law and the Lawyers’ Law,” said Tsering Tsomo, executive director of TCHRD.

“We are concerned that the illegal delaying tactics might help Chinese authorities achieve two sinister goals: force Tashi Wangchuk to complete his prison term before his appeal process makes any headway and at the same time maintain a facade of ‘rule of law’. But the consistent refusal to grant access to the lawyers is a clear indication that the verdict against Tashi Wangchuk was unfair and unjust.”