Dharamshala, India — 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 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."
The following is full text of Shokjang's letter that translated into English by The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), sent to the Tibet Post International based in Dharamshala, India.
To the Qinghai Higher People's Court
My name is Drukar Gyal, or Druklo in short, and my pen-name is Shokjang. I come from Khagya village in Gengya area of Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) county, Kanlho [Gannan] prefecture. On March 19, 2015, I was detained by Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) county Public Security, and held in the detention centre there from the 20th. On May 5, the formal announcement of my arrest came. On July 21, the Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Prefecture Intermediate People's Court convened; I presented the defence that my actions were not illegal, and the court's deliberation was postponed for over seven months, until the second session on February 17 2016, which announced a sentence of three years imprisonment with two years suspension of political rights.
As I myself cannot accept this judgement, I have written this appeal to the provincial Higher Peoples Court, cherishing the hope of justice being done.
The Malho Peoples Court has condemned the matters I wrote about as "inciting the splitting of the nation". The main points are (i) A composition about the freedom of religious belief posted on the internet; (ii) A written account of the events of March 16 (2015), when police and soldiers came to search my hotel room at gunpoint; (iii) Reproducing a short section from the book 'The Division of Heaven and Earth' on the internet; (iv) Sharing a news report that the Chinese government would hold talks with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on matters unrelated to Tibetan independence; (v) Reproducing on the internet an internal video clip of Chinese police beating ordinary Chinese people in the street; (vi) Having copies of six books, including 'Sky Burial' by Wang Lixiong, on my phone.
Concerning the first four points, while I presented the case for my defence earlier, the present sentencing document rules that my arguments citing the constitution and so on are without foundation.
If even the provisions of the Chinese constitution are not valid arguments, I find the basis for the Intermediate People's Court's decision hard to understand. With the merest of hopes, I am restating my case that my actions were not illegal, along with an unreserved statement of my position, and request that you the provincial Higher Peoples Court give it full consideration.
1. Freedom of religious belief is an important right of citizens defined by the constitution. On the basis of this constitutional right, my composition expressed my view of the restrictions imposed by armed soldiers on the occasion of the 'flower offering' ceremony at Kumbum monastery, and addressed my readers on awareness of the right to religious belief. Any citizen has the right to comment on developments in society according to legally guaranteed rights, while conveying awareness of the law to others is a responsibility. I have only exercised my right and responsibility according to the constitution, and made no mention of separatism etc. as they allege.
With regard to the overall relationship between religion and politics, I clearly wrote that I was expressing my opinions on the outcome of politics dictating to religion and the outcome of religious rights dictating politics; the former [is discussed] in the present composition, and the latter is still unwritten.
To put it straight, this was basically just a short piece that has nothing to do with a serious political allegation like "splitting the nation". The Malho Intermediate Peoples Court cited a fragment of what I wrote, "...this is not just trampling on the Tibetan people's right to freedom of religious belief, but on the right of the Chinese people as a whole to religious freedom", to accuse me of having a separatist attitude. If knowledgeable people were to examine this, would they not find it laughable? Not only did I not make even the slightest reference to separatism, my statement posits no distinction between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples. Their talk of separatism does not establish what is being separated from what.
At that time, the situation at the Kumbum Flower Offering ceremony [Monlam Chenmo, marked by a massive presence of armed troops] was widely discussed on the internet, with lots of devotees giving their opinions one after another, as you well know. After seeing these things, I simply wrote down what I thought, and the photos inserted in my text were entirely borrowed from others, none of them were taken by me. As someone staying in Labrang, my camera lens cannot reach Kumbum monastery, as any ordinary person would understand.
Further, straightforwardly writing down my view of the situation at that time is my right to written expression, a right enshrined in and protected by the constitution. 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. Won't such extreme suspicion make for an authoritarian stranglehold? Doesn't it contradict the core socialist values of "freedom, democracy, equality, transparency, upholding law..." etc. being propagated by President Xi Jinping and others? Won't this apparent deliberate dereliction of the decisions of the top leadership be ridiculed by nations from the four corners of the world? Won't future generations be ashamed? I request the Higher Peoples Court to review this carefully.
2. On the evening of March 16 (2015) I was in a hotel in Rebkong [Tongren]. Late at night, two people wearing police uniform and army uniform and carrying guns came inside saying they needed to search the place. When I asked them to show some documentary proof, they pointed their guns at me and loudly intimidated me. That was the first time I have experienced the terror of facing the barrel of a gun pointed at me. Such unspeakable, unimaginable intimidation embittered me towards the Rebkong security [forces]. Confronted with those, whether policemen or gangsters I knew not, I wrote that [account of events] in the hope of getting the protection of the security authorities and the public.
In case those searching me at gunpoint that night really were police and army personnel, is it not illegal to conduct a search without a warrant? The injured party here is myself, and the proper object of the court's protection is me. In case they were gangsters, I am even more so the injured party, and the one due to be protected by the court. However, quite unbelievably, the court instead accused me not only of inciting separatism, but of fabrication, saying "Results of police investigation confirm the use of fabrication and incitement to cause unrest" [quoted in Chinese]. As to whether my account is fabricated, take another look at the CCTV footage from that day, and it can be clearly seen.
The term 'instigatory' is a mystery. 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.
3. The short extract from 'The Division of Heaven and Earth' [a major contemporary work by the Tibetan author Shokdung] was copied by someone else and posted on the internet. In the course of my involvement with it, I wrote: "Look at this again and again, and think about it again and again" there. The reason for that is that 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. 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.
4. The news about the Chinese government talking with the Dalai Lama was an internal thing. I shared it from my friend's Weibo [Chinese social media] page. It is extraordinary that even sharing a piece of internal news can be illegal. Such negotiations have taken place in the past, and a few years ago some representatives of the Tibetan government [in exile] came to China to hold discussions. But the Malho Prefecture Peoples Court does not seem to understand that this has nothing to do with state secrets and suchlike. Otherwise, there is no basis for such a decision. According to the Malho Prefecture Peoples Court's way of making judgements, not just I but the Chinese government has committed a serious crime, and internal news channels should just be closed. I appeal to the Higher Peoples Court to show some understanding.
5. The video clip is of a real life incident somewhere in the mainland. It got a very high number of hits. I also shared it from a Chinese friend's Weibo. The oppressed Chinese public sympathised with the suffering of the victims. As I said earlier, "I would do the same for our Chinese brothers and sisters". This has nothing whatever to do with so-called separatism, neither can it be construed as illegal. Without even looking into the content of this video clip, the Malho Prefecture Intermediate Peoples Court declared it to be Tibet-related, and landed the weighty accusation of instigating separatism on my little head, a weight I can hardly bear. I await exoneration by the Provincial Higher Peoples Court.
6. It is true that I have read books like Wang Lixiong's 'Sky Burial', but I have not quoted a word from such books, and certainly not passed them on to others. If 'Sky Burial' is a book that should not even be read, it is excellent that its author has been shown such leniency by the law. Such application of the law has all my respect. Writers like him should be cherished by the nation and the people. And yet, showing leniency to an author and then punishing his readers – under which point of law this is sanctioned, I really do not know. If my grasp of the law is too poor, I do apologise, but otherwise, I appeal to the Higher Peoples Court to clearly distinguish such "One Country, Two Systems" practices.
There are further implications: for my friends even to say that they had seen the previous three posts on my Weibo page is counted as prime evidence of law-breaking. If even setting eyes on these things is going to be considered illegal, then not only all my writings, but everything down to the birds and the bees could be too. Which intelligent person can accept charges based on evidence 'ridiculed by people but tolerated by dogs'?
Another thing I don't understand is that they took away my iPhone5S, because they retrieved those posts through the phone. But if they had found those writings in my house, would they also confiscate the house and its contents?
They may be like 'an old mouth used to eating, and an old hand used to taking', but I don't have that many benefactors, and trust that you, the Provincial Court, will not 'blow an ill wind into a poor man's tsampa bag'.
Finally, as a Chinese citizen, my right to free expression and right to compose writings about my experiences are provided for by the constitution, but on account of my lack of familiarity with the law, I apologise if I have not expressed myself well, verbally and in written. Most of all, with my old mother and siblings looking at me with constant tears in their eyes, and my wife and children waiting for me every second, I await a proper decision as swiftly as possible from the Higher Court.
Druklo, also known as Shokjang
February 24, 2016