Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk released from prison after five years remains incommunicado

The well-known Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk, who was sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting separatism”, was released yesterday after completing his sentence. However, he remains inaccessible to his lawyers even as it is reported that he is staying at his sister’s home in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, in the Tibetan province of Kham.

Mr Tashi was arbitrarily detained on 27 January 2016 after a New York Times documentary reported on his efforts to file a lawsuit against local Chinese authorities for their failure to protect and promote Tibetan culture and language. He had been in pretrial detention for almost two years subjected to torture and beatings.

Reporting on Mr Tashi’s release, one of his lawyers Liang Xiaojun wrote on his Twitter handle that Mr Tashi was taken to Yushu by personnel from the Justice Bureau of Trindu (Ch: Chenduo) County, Qinghai Province, and is now staying at his second sister’s home. Family members said he was in good health.

But Liang was unable to get Mr Tashi’s photo or to directly contact his family in Yushu. “I don’t know if he is fully free,” Liang said.

Even after his release, Mr Tashi has to serve a supplementary sentence of five years of “deprivation of political rights,” which begins from the day of his release. In clear violation of international human rights standards, this supplementary sentence imposes enhanced restrictions and deprivation of the rights to vote and to stand for election; freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration; the right to hold a position in a State organ; and hold a leading position in any State-owned company, enterprise, institution or people’s organization. Mr Tashi received the highest term of five years as permitted for in the Chinese criminal law provisions on deprivation of political rights. 

Mr Tashi was sentenced despite two joint communications issued by a group of six UN human rights experts calling for his immediate release and for all of the charges to be dropped. In December 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Mr Wangchuk’s detention was arbitrary and in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.In 2018, the experts condemned the sentencing on the grounds that it violated Mr Tashi’s right to freely express his opinion about the human rights of the Tibetans.  The UN experts further highlighted the absence of any satisfactory response from Chinese government when asked about any “specific measures undertaken to promote and protect the linguistic and cultural rights of the Tibetan minority.”

The current incommunicado condition of Mr Tashi and his lawyers’ inability to contact him bear evidence that he remains under heavy surveillance, similar to house arrest, at his sister’s house.

The harsh treatment of moderate Tibetan activists like Tashi Wangchuk is a testament to the precedence accorded to China’s campaign to assimilate numerous minority nationalities into a “singular national identity” through the “ethnic fusion” campaign, which has spawned a range of human rights abuses such as incarceration in political education campaigns, targeted attacks on minority language education, religious repression, and marked persecution of activists and dissidents engaged in social and cultural issues. 

 TCHRD calls on the Chinese authorities to ease all restrictions on Tashi Wangchuk’s human rights and allow his lawyers and relatives to contact him without surveillance. Chinese authorities must disclose accurate information on the current state and wellbeing of Tashi Wangchuk, and allow him to access unhindered medical treatment or other support systems. Chinese authorities have obligations under international law, pursuant to the ratification of international human rights treaties,  to ensure that Tibetans enjoy and exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms to protect and promote their political, cultural and linguistic identity.

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