The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is deeply concerned about the personal liberty and security of Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk, who was released early last year after completing a five-year prison term.
Since then, Wangchuk has continued to advocate for Tibetan language and cultural rights. In September last year, he opened an account on the Chinese microblogging site, Weibo, where he posted updates on his peaceful advocacy.
From 6 to 9 April this year, he posted information and images about Tibetan schools that had been forcibly closed or those where Mandarin Chinese had already been imposed as the medium of instruction in Qinghai Province. Traveling from his hometown of Kyegudo in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to Xining, he had made several stops in Golok (Ch: Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Malho (Ch: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture where he was later evicted from various guesthouses in Rebkong (Ch: Tongren) County.
Since 10 April, his Weibo account cannot be accessed, and attempts to search his account have been met with an automatic response that the “user does not exist”.
With his account disabled, there is no way to know about the condition and whereabouts of Wangchuk.
On 9 April, he wrote that he was unable to leave Rebkong for Xining because all public transportation had been cancelled due to the pandemic. After getting a Covid clearance certificate, he had to settle for a more expensive guesthouse because local Chinese police had successfully pressured many other affordable guesthouses against accommodating him.
Prior to his arrival in Rebkong, he had posted updates on the situation of the Sengdruk Taktse school in Golok which Chinese authorities closed last year.
Updates were also posted on the adoption of Chinese medium education in the Tibetan middle school no. 1, Tibetan middle school no. 2, and the Kharshol residential primary school in Tsekhog (Ch: Zeku) County; as well as the Tibetan middle school in Machen (Ch: Maqin) County; and the prefecture-level Tibetan senior middle school in Golok.
Arriving in Rebkong on the evening of 7 April, he had checked into a guesthouse but was asked half an hour later by the owner to leave because the local police had apparently issued an order forbidding outside visitors from renting accommodation in Rebkong.
A photo on Wangchuk’s Weibo showed Chinese SWAT police, an elite group of officers “trained to deal with emergency situations involving serious crimes and terrorism”, entering his hotel room. Wangchuk requested the officers that he be allowed to stay as he would not be able to find another accommodation at such late hours and that he also had the requisite Covid clearance certificate. But the officers claimed that the guesthouse was under observation due to some issues in the past. Wangchuk was eventually forced to leave.
The same evening, Wangchuk got accommodation at another guesthouse but was told several minutes later that all rooms were occupied. After much difficulty, he was able to get another accommodation.
The next morning, however, he was again asked to leave and had to change hotels. But half an hour after checking into the new hotel, the owner called, asking him to vacate the room, citing orders from the local police. He had written at the time on Weibo: “Looks like I will have to spend the night on the streets of [Rebkong], the capital of Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture!”
Although he got accommodation that evening, he was again evicted the next morning on 9 April on the orders of the county police. The same day, he approached the Malho Prefecture Public Security Bureau office to petition against the county police’s harassment.
At the prefecture PSB office, he was told that since it was Saturday, no officer was available to receive his petition and instead suggested that he either come on Monday or petition the County PSB office.
When he reached the county PSB office, he overheard the officer on duty speaking on the phone and the caller was asking whether someone had come there and to not allow that person to enter. Just then, a plainclothes officer told Wangchuk that there were no officers to receive the petition on Saturday.
Wangchuk then approached the County Commission for Discipline Inspection but the office was closed. Later, he visited the Prefecture Commission for Discipline Inspection where an officer told him that the matter was outside of their jurisdiction and advised him to visit the PSB office.
Even as he was visiting government offices to submit a petition, he received three calls from the last guesthouse owner to vacate the room. On the travails he faced for two days trying to find rented accommodation, getting evicted from six guesthouses, and unsuccessfully attempting to lodge a petition, he wrote, “After all these, I can no longer predict my fate or how the police will settle this matter. Even an ordinary person like me cannot rent an accommodation and such a trivial matter has to be petitioned to the higher authorities. Still, I hope there will be a proper mechanism to redress the grievances of the people.”
In his previous posts, he questioned the closure of Tibetan language websites by sharing screenshots of inaccessible websites. Some of his posts enlisted the rights enshrined in the Chinese constitution.
On 11 January, Tashi visited the Education Bureau of Yushu City to call for the use of the Tibetan language as the medium of instruction in all schools in Yushu.
On 12 January, Tashi attempted to visit the offices of the Yushu city mayor and Party secretary to call on the officials to make practical use of the Tibetan language in administration and business but was blocked by other officials.
Undaunted by the repeated rebuffs of higher authorities, he posted on 15 and 17 January an appeal letter addressed to the leaders and officials in Tibetan areas.
TCHRD strongly condemns the continued harassment of the well-known and highly-respected Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk. His five-year imprisonment on the trumped-up charge of “inciting separatism” was politically motivated with no basis either in domestic or international law.
The Chinese Constitution and other laws such as Regional National Autonomy Law form the basis of his peaceful advocacy for Tibetan language and cultural rights both before and after his imprisonment.
To silence him by shutting down his Weibo account and subjecting him to police harassment yet again reveals the inhumanity and insecurity of the Chinese party-state.
TCHRD calls on the Chinese authorities particularly the PSB authorities in Rebkong County and Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to immediately account for Tashi Wangchuk’s personal liberty and security.
TCHRD urges the international community including the UN and its human rights mechanisms as well as foreign governments and civil society actors to engage with and pressure the Chinese authorities to uphold their own laws and guarantee the human rights of Tashi Wangchuk.