The popular Tibetan blogger and intellectual Druklo, more widely known by his pen name Shokjang, has written an eloquent and remarkable letter from detention appealing against his three-year prison sentence. The letter, which is translated in full below into English after it was circulated on Chinese social media, was handwritten in Tibetan and addressed to the Qinghai Higher People’s Court.
There was widespread dismay when Shokjang was detained by security police on March 19, 2015, and sentenced to three years in prison, with numerous netizens expressing their sadness, and Shokjang’s innocence. An intellectual, blogger and writer, Shokjang is known for his reflective and thought-provoking articles on issues of contemporary concern such as ethnic policy and settlement of nomads.
His letter to the authorities is dated February 24 (2016), although it has only just reached Tibetan exiles, including the former Tibetan political prisoner Golog Jigme, who now lives in Switzerland, and who knew Shokjang in Tibet. According to sources, Shokjang is still being held in detention in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren), Qinghai, where he was first arrested, and has not yet been transferred to a prison.
The precisely-worded text of Shokjang’s letter both conveys the absurdity of the charges against him and reveals a fellow feeling with Chinese and other Tibetans who experience similar ordeals. He writes: “China is a vast country with 56 different nationalities, and Tibetans are one of the largest minorities. I am a Chinese citizen, and as a Tibetan intellectual, I have to be concerned for the precious lives of my own kin. If doing so is called ‘instigating separatism’, nothing is more laughable. I might joyfully and voluntarily serve my sentence, but I never want to be a person without regard for the lives of his brothers and sisters. Come to that, I would do the same for our Chinese brothers and sisters.”
Shokjang’s open letter details for the first time the elements of the case against him, which he says the Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) People’s Court (in Qinghai) describe as ‘inciting the splitting of the nation’. In his letter Shokjang gives a nuanced and sophisticated analysis against characterizing his writings as ‘separatist’, focusing on the use of the word ‘instigating’ or ‘inciting’ ‘separatism’ : “If one talks about instigating separatism, I have not written even a word of separatism, much less instigated it. If I write about an incident in which I suffered harm, and that becomes an unfounded accusation against me, and I write an appeal to the court about the incident, that does not make me a separatist. Helplessly subject to a punishment that makes your flesh creep the more you think about it, I appeal to the Higher People’s Court to look for the objective truth.”
In his precise and reasoned argument, Shokjang points out that his right to written expression is enshrined in, and protected by, the Chinese Constitution, and writes that if he is a ‘splittist’, then so, potentially, are Chinese and Tibetan tourists who post observations about their experiences in Tibet on social media: “If such situations in the cultural sphere turn into serious political issues, issues of national separatism, does that make visitors from both nationalities who post photos and other observations on the situation at Kumbum monastery on the internet into perpetrators of separatism? By this logic, only a minority of the general public would not be considered as separatists or instigators of separatism.”
Shokjang also conveys the peaceful approach of Tibetans to their situation, underlining that the reason he reproduced a section from a book about the 2008 protests by another Tibetan writer, Tagyal (pen name: Shokdung), was because: “I do not want to see any more of such tragic bloodshed. I will never fight to secure my own happiness through shedding the blood of others.”
Tightening oppression in Tibet and an emphasis on uprooting ‘separatism’ has created a more dangerous political environment for Tibetans in expressing their views. As a result a new generation of Tibetans is paying a high price with their lives for peaceful expression of views in a political climate in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity or culture not directly sanctioned by the state, no matter how mild, can be characterized by the authorities as “splittist” and therefore “criminal.”
A full translation of Shokjang’s letter into English by ICT follows below.
 ICT report, ‘Popular, courageous Tibetan blogger sentenced to three years in prison’ February 19, 2016, https://savetibet.org/popular-courageous-tibetan-blogger-sentenced-to-three-years-in-prison/
 On 16 March 2015, Druklo had written an article on his blog about the 56th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, describing the increased police patrols on the streets of Tongren County (Rebkong).
 ‘The Division of Heaven and Earth’ is a book written by Tibetan writer Tagyal (penname: Shokdung) about the protests in 2008. It was an underground bestseller and the author was imprisoned for six months. It is to be published this year in English translation by the UK-based publisher Hurst (see p 6 of the publishers’ catalogue: https://issuu.com/hurstpublishers/docs/nbc_summer-autumn_2016/1?e=3050992/34585984)
 A reference to the Monlam Chenmo, an auspicious and significant festival, marked every year by ‘flower offerings’ and images of deities made with butter in different colors. Traditionally held each year at around the time of the closing days of Tibetan New Year (Losar), a feature of recent years has been the convergence of massed ranks of armed troops as thousands of Tibetan devotees seek to mark the festival. This has been particularly noticeable at Kumbum monastery in Qinghai. Images and report, see ICT report, ‘Thousands of Tibetan pilgrims face troops at religious ceremonies in eastern Tibet’, https://www.savetibet.org/thousands-of-tibetan-pilgrims-face-troops-at-religious-ceremonies-in-eastern-tibet/
 With this colloquial phrase, Shokjang is appealing to the higher authorities by implying that the local authorities have done in this case what they have always done without thinking about the implications of the case.
 This metaphor conveys an impression of the author as vulnerable to the ‘ill wind’ of the Chinese state; ‘tsampa’ is a traditional Tibetan food, roasted barley, which often symbolizes Tibetan identity, and its grains can be easily scattered and removed by strong winds.