Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan-language advocate detained for two years in eastern Tibet pleaded not guilty in court to inciting separatism, a charge that could lead to 15 years in jail, according to his lawyers. Photo: File

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Tashi-Wangchuk-Tibet-Language-2018Dharamshala, India — China is under renewed criticism as a Tibetan man who has campaigned for the preservation of Tibetan language and culture, entered a not guilty plea during a four-hour hearing in the Intermediate People's Court in Yulshul County of eastern Tibet. 

Tashi Wangchuk, 32, Thursday stood trial on charges of allegedly "inciting separatism" after his peaceful advocacy for Tibetan linguistic and cultural rights. Prosecutors played footage of his interview with journalists as evidence in trial of Tashi. "A verdict would be handed down at a later date," his lawyer Liang Xiaojun said, adding that prosecutors accused Tashi of "smearing China's ethnic policy and inciting to separate the nation".

The trial ended with no verdict announced. But his lawyer said that a verdict would be handed down at a later date. According to a tweet from Tashi’s lawyer, translated from Mandarin, “The trial of Tashi Wangchuk for the crime of inciting separatism, which took 4 hours from 9:30 to 13:30."

Tashi was taken away from his home Yulshul County (Ch: Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province) by police in January 2016 soon after being interviewed by The New York Times.

A Times' video of the interview – "A Tibetan's Journey for Justice" – was played as evidence during the hearing. In it, Tashi criticises the destruction of Tibetan culture and details his attempts in Beijing to sue Yushu government officials for sidelining Tibetan language in schools.

"Within schools in Tibetan regions, from primary to secondary schools, most courses are taught in Chinese with Tibetan being taught as one single subject," Tashi says in the video.

As an advocate for Tibetan culture, Tashi Wangchuk has maintained a blog, writing about greater autonomy for Tibetans within China and has been vocal about language education. He has called for schools in Tibet to adopt a true system of bilingual education so that Tibetan children can become fluent in their mother language. None of his writings have called for Tibetan independence.

He has also said that 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.

President of the Central Tibetan Administration expressed his concern and urged Chinese authorities to uphold constitutional rights while pronouncing the sentence. "Tashi Wangchuk has on his own volition advocated for a constitutionally guaranteed right, that of bi-lingual education for Tibetans and ethnic minorities. His trial and sentencing will determine largely whether the Chinese Government is committed to upholding the internationally recognised laws and domestically accepted rule of law in China," President Dr Lobsang Sangay said on Thursday.

The trial of Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk for "inciting separatism" is an outrageous attempt to treat peaceful advocacy for linguistic and cultural rights as a dangerous crime, PEN America, a group promoting free expression, said Wednesday.

"This is an attack on Tibetan language and cultural rights, which authorities have dressed up as an issue of national security. The idea that peaceful advocacy for Tibetan language rights somehow constitutes 'separatism' is absurd and offensive," said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. "We call on the arresting authorities to drop all charges against Tashi Wangchuk, who has not committed any crime, immediately, and to release him from custody."

Rinzin Choedon, Grassroots Director for Students for a Free Tibet - India, in a statement issued on Thursday said, “The fact that the trial was adjourned without a verdict and that Tashi Wangchuk was able to express his clear views shows that the Chinese communist government was feeling the pressure of international human rights supporters and Tibet advocacy groups. With similar political trials, long prison sentences are frequently handed out immediately and without much consideration.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both issued statements asking China for his immediate release. On 18 January 2017, Amnesty International revealed that he had been indicted, and his trial was expected shortly. But the trial would not come for nearly a year, finally occurring today, 4 January 2018. Tashi’s last known location was Yushu Detention Centre, Yushu City.

If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison, and he is at risk of torture and other ill treatment. Amnesty International called its international members for an urgent action to get authorities “to immediately and unconditionally release Tashi Wangchuk, who is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.” It further urges the authorities to “ensure that he has regular, unrestricted access to his family and lawyers of his choice without delay, and is protected from torture or other-ill-treatment.”

The Chinese Communist regime began their invasion of Tibet in 1949 with total occupation of the country occurring in 1959. Since that time, more than 1.2 million people, 20% of the nation's population of six million, have died as a direct result of China's invasion and occupation. In addition, over 99% of Tibet's six thousand religious monasteries, temples, and shrines, have been looted or decimated resulting in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of sacred Buddhist scriptures.