Tibetan Advocate Held in Secret for Weeks in China, Charged with ‘Inciting Separatism’

A Tibetan entrepreneur has been held in secret for weeks by Chinese authorities. Tashi Wangchuk, 30, is not a murderer, he is not a thief; he is not a violent offender of any sort. No, Mr. Tashi is actually a fierce advocate for bilingual schools across the Tibetan regions of China – and this apparently is a huge threat to the Chinese government.

Mr. Tashi was detained on January 27 and charged with ‘inciting separatism’, according to an official police document. Mr. Tashi’s relatives were not informed of his arrest until March 24, leaving them in the dust of his whereabouts for almost two months.

According to Chinese law, it is required that a detainee’s family be notified within 24 hours. The police’s actions were clearly in violation of their own laws. A police officer gave Mr. Tashi’s family a document stating the charge along with a photograph, which was dated March 4. 

Mr. Tashi is being held in the main detainee facility in Yushu, a town in Qinghai Province in western China. He resides in Yushu with his elderly parents and also runs his own shop.

In addition to this business, Mr. Tashi works tirelessly as an advocate for the preservation of Tibetan culture, and most notably, for his work on language education. The New York Times reports that Mr. Tashi says that “schools should adopt a true system of bilingual education so that Tibetan children can become fluent in their mother language.”

Prior to his arrest, Mr. Tashi had written about his strong beliefs on the matter in his microblog. He expressed that Tibetans needed to protect their culture and that Chinese officials should aid them in doing so.

Although he publicly opposes Tibetan independence and stresses that none of his work takes that stance, he has argued for greater Tibetan autonomy within China.

“The dearth of effective Tibetan language education, and the fact that the language is not used in government offices, violates the Chinese Constitution, which guarantees cultural autonomy for Tibetan and other ethnic regions,” he has said.

Mr. Tashi’s advocacy work has not gone unnoticed in the international realm. Last year, the New York Times quoted him in two articles on Tibetan language and culture. The Times also placed him as its main subject of a documentary video about his efforts to use the legal system as a means to urge Chinese officials to better improve Tibetan language education.

Mr. Tashi’s family has said that they have been unable to find a local lawyer to represent Mr. Tashi. There has been no announcement for a trial date. If found guilty, Mr. Tashi could face up to 15 years in prison.

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