Tibetan shopkeeper Tashi Wangchuk, who has been in prison since January 2016 after he sought to defend Tibetans’ right to education in their own language, is due to be tried tomorrow (January 4).

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Tashi Wangchuk did nothing more than defend a cultural right to use one’s own language, protected under the Chinese Constitution and international human rights law. He should never have been arrested, and it is indefensible that he now faces criminal prosecution, and the lack of a fair trial, and should be released immediately.”

Tashi Wangchuk was critical of Chinese cultural and educational policies on Tibetans in an interview with The New York Times in 2015, published in both print media and as a video that circulated widely. According to a microblog posted by his attorney, Liang Xiaojun, the Yushu Intermediate Court in Qinghai Province has scheduled the trial for January 4 (2018).

In his interview with the New York Times, Tashi Wangchuk, who ran a shop in Yushu, stressed the importance of Tibetans having access to education in the Tibetan language and his intention to file a lawsuit against the authorities for not enabling this. He was detained on January 27, 2016.

Although an official indictment has not been made public, according to informed sources Tashi Wangchuk is accused of instigating ‘separatism,’ an offence that can lead to prison sentences of up to 15 years. The basis of his criticism was only related to the language policy of the People’s Republic of China as it concerned Tibetans and his lawyer states that his client is “solely concerned with the preservation of Tibetan culture.”

On February 10, 2017, five UN Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion on Tashi Wangchuk expressing “grave concern over the arrest, the initial incommunicado detention, continued detention limited right to legal advice, refusing to present the evidence against him and the irregularities in the investigation.”

The International Campaign for Tibet has called upon governments to send observers to the trial.

Tashi Wangchuk is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.