Dhondup Wangchen arrives safely in the United States

Dhondup Wangchen in San Francisco with his wife, Lhamo Tso, and their four children. (Photo: Filming For Tibet)

The International Campaign for Tibet strongly welcomes the news that Tibetan filmmaker and former political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen has been able to leave his homeland and reunite with his wife and children in the United States.

Despite having served his prison sentence, Dhondup continued to be limited in his freedom of movement, but was finally able to overcome those challenges, leave Tibet and pursue his deeply held desire to reunite with his family.

In a statement on December 27, 2017, the Swiss based organization “Filming for Tibet”, which has been campaigning for Dhondup Wangchen’s release over the past years, said: “Dhondup Wangchen arrived to safety in San Francisco on the afternoon of 25 December, after an arduous and risky escape from Tibet and the People’s Republic of China.”

It also quoted Dhondup as saying, “After many years, this is the first time I’m enjoying the feeling of safety and freedom. I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to hold my wife and children in my arms again. However, I also feel the pain of having left behind my country, Tibet.”

Dhondup Wangchen was arrested by the Chinese government in March 2008, was then convicted to six years in jail in 2009 and was subsequently released in July 2014 after completing his sentence and has since then been seeking to reunite with his family. He was one of the most prominent Tibetan political prisoners of the past years whose courageous non-violent work has earned recognition and support throughout the world, among civil society, parliaments and governments.

In 2006 Dhondup Wangchen, along with his colleague Golog Jigme, conceived the idea of realizing a documentary film, later to be called “Leaving Fear Behind”, focused on interviewing ordinary Tibetan people who were asked to share their views on the Dalai Lama and on the Chinese government in the year leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Before his arrest in March 2008, he managed to smuggle the footage overseas that had been shot between 2007 and 2008. With “Leaving Fear Behind”, Dhondup Wangchen and Golog Jigme offered a rare and impressive view into the aspirations and feelings of the Tibetan people, unhindered by fear of government repression, control and censorship.

The documentary premiered with a secret screening for journalists on August 6, 2008, in Beijing, a few days before the Olympics, and was then screened in different countries.

Throughout his life, including in the process of making his film, Dhondup Wangchen aimed at raising awareness in a non-violent and peaceful way about the denial of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people, including the universal right to freedom of expression.

“The six years Dhondup Wangchen had to spend in jail are a stark reminder of the human costs that China’s policies continue to have on the Tibetan people. Dhondup Wangchen should have never had to pay such a high personal price for exercising his freedom of expression,” said Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

“The film ‘Leaving Fear Behind’ played a major role in raising the awareness of the international community about the real feelings and opinions of the Tibetan people. The curtailing of freedom of expression in Tibet continues to this day to be ruthless and unabated. We worked with Dhondup’s wife Lhamo Tso to provide opportunities for this movie to be shown and to spread knowledge about China’s oppressive policies in Tibet,” Mecacci added.

The International Campaign for Tibet is elated that Dhondup Wangchen is finally reunited with his family, with whom he had been separated for nearly 10 years. His wife Lhamo Tso has tirelessly campaigned for his release in numerous capitals of the world.

Amnesty International has honored Dhondup Wangchen for his courage while the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded him its International Press Freedom Award in 2012. He was also awarded the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in 2014. The International Campaign for Tibet, along other civil society organizations, has been highlighting his situation, raising it with governments of United States, Germany, the Netherlands, the European Commission, other governments in Europe, and at the United Nations.

Dhondup Wangchen’s case was a priority for the United States government, which raised his case with the Chinese government at the highest level.

Filming for Tibet’s statement can be read here.