tashi wangchuk

Tashi Wangchuk

A Tibetan man imprisoned for his advocacy for Tibetan language depicted in a New York Times video interview still faces criminal charges, according to his lawyer, and police are pushing for a trial.

Tashi Wangchuk, 31, has been detained by police in his home area of Jyegudo (Chinese: Yushu) in Qinghai since January 27 (2016) following an interview with the New York Times on Tibetan culture and language, published as an article and video in November, 2015. He faces charges of ‘separatism’, although he has not advocated Tibetan independence, and has said that Tibet should have greater regional autonomy, especially in the issue of language, under Chinese governance. His lawyer, Liang Xiaojun said: “All he wants is to try to preserve Tibetan culture.”[1]

According to information from the lawyer cited by the New York Times, the police concluded an additional investigation at the prosecutors’ request on August 25 (2016) and handed over those results. Prosecutors now have about 90 days to decide whether the case should go to court. Tashi Wangchuk is being held at the main detention center in Yushu (in the Tibetan area of Kham), where he lives with his elderly parents.

His arrest followed a video by the New York Times that documented his journey to Beijing in 2015 to try to file a lawsuit against Yushu officials for not properly supporting the Tibetan language.

The Tibetan language – bedrock of Tibetan culture, religion and identity – has been steadily undermined under Chinese rule over the past six decades. The Chinese authorities focus on the dominance of the Chinese language to the detriment of Tibetan, and are also marginalizing the Tibetan language by withdrawing it from the curriculum. Chinese policies that undermine Tibetan language run counter to provisions in China’s own laws, specifically the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law; Chinese legal protections for language and culture are not implemented in Tibet.

Primary reliance on the Tibetan language creates serious obstacles for Tibetans in terms of their further education, jobs and income in the Chinese-run system. Research shows that children do better when the language acquired from birth is the teaching medium. While primary-level classes are still taught in Tibetan in many Tibetan areas, instruction as higher levels is in Chinese in all subjects other than Tibetan language classes, meaning that Tibetans find themselves at an educational disadvantage. Tibetans want to learn Chinese, but not at the expense of the integrity of their mother tongue, in which their religious and cultural heritage is transmitted.

Tashi Wangchuk told the New York Times that one of the reasons he sought to highlight the importance of language was because he could not find a place where his two teenage nieces could continue studying Tibetan, after officials forced an informal school run by monks in his area to stop offering language classes for laypeople. Officials had also ordered other monasteries and a private school in the area not to teach the language to laypeople. And public schools had dropped true bilingual education in Chinese and Tibetan, teaching Tibetan only in a single class, like a foreign language, if they taught it at all.[2]

In 2010, when proposals were introduced to increase Chinese-language medium teaching and undermine Tibetan language study, hundreds of students and schoolchildren joined protests in Qinghai. There were further demonstrations in 2012, when the proposals were adopted in the form of a teaching system that almost eliminated Tibetan as a language of instruction in primary and secondary schools.[3]

Prior to his arrest, Tashi Wangchuk sold goods in a shop in Yushu and online via the Taobao platform, started by Alibaba, the online commerce company. In 2014, Alibaba featured Tashi in a video produced for its international roadshow.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “All Tashi Wangchuk wants to do is preserve his culture, his language, and contribute to his community, as he is entitled to do under China’s laws and regulations. This sincere and dedicated young man should be released from prison immediately.”

[1] Cited by the New York Times, August 31, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/31/world/asia/china-tibet-tashi-wangchuk.html?_r=0

[2] New York Times, November 28, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/world/asia/china-tibet-language-education.html?_r=0

[3] See ICT reports, https://www.https://savetibet.org/protests-by-students-against-downgrading-of-tibetan-language-spread-to-beijing/ and https://www.https://savetibet.org/tibetan-teachers-write-petition-in-support-of-tibetan-language-fears-for-students-after-detentions/