By Dukthen Kyi*
Exactly one hundred days ago, on January 4, the Chinese court in Yushu put Tashi Wangchuk on trial. Tashi Wangchuk, a 32-year old Tibetan who advocated for the Tibetan people’s right to education in their own language, was detained on January 27, 2016. Tashi Wangchuk’s crime: he appeared in a New York Times video and articles voicing his concern over lack of Tibetan language education in local schools in Tibetan areas, and promoting the protection of Tibetan language and culture. He was charged for “inciting separatism,” a charge that is vaguely defined and could conveniently incorporate “activities” that the Chinese authorities deem as acts of dissent(s) but could put him behind bars for as long as for 15 years.
Tashi Wangchuk’s trial appeared unexpectedly this January, after two years of arbitrary detention. His trial garnered strong international condemnation of China’s human rights violation record, including the United Nations. According to news reports on Tashi Wangchuk’s case, his lawyer Liang Xiaojun said that the New York Times documentary in which he was featured was presented during the trial as major evidence. Defending himself, Tashi Wangchuk refused the charges while his family members waited outside the courtroom anxiously. He is also seen in the documentary explicitly stating that he does not advocate for Tibet’s independence but for the Tibetan people’s right granted under the Chinese law provisions for ethnic minorities.
The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and several Special Procedures while condemning the arbitrary detention of Tashi Wangchuk, expressed their concerns in urgent, joint communications sent to China. In one such latest communication, the case of Tashi Wangchuk’s arbitrary detention was highlighted in “Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrarily Detention” during its 18th session held from 20-24 November 2017. The communication transmitted to China just three months before Tashi Wangchuk’s undecided trial called upon the Chinese government to “release Mr. Wangchuk immediately and unconditionally” and “to drop all charges against him in relation to his advocacy for greater Tibetan language education.”
China is one country that has held a steady record of scoring 99.9 percent conviction rate and is popularly known for “convict[ing] almost everyone it accuses”. Oddly, Tashi Wanghuk’s trial at the Yushu Intermediate People’s Court hundred days ago ended on the same day without a verdict. The Sword of Damocles continues to hang over the heads of his family and friends as they wait for the verdict to be announced.
Tashi Wangchuk, known as one of “the most prominent political prisoners in China,” continues to be arbitrary detained. International human rights organizations, governments, and rights experts closely watch the Chinese government to see if it demonstrates minimal existence of rule of law in the country, as the November 2017 communication states that “[i]f Mr. Wangchuk cannot be tried within a reasonable time, he is entitled to be released.
*Dukthen Kyi is United Nations and Human Rights Officer at DIIR