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China sentences Tibetan language activist to five years in prison

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In November 2015, the New York Times published a 10-minute video about Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan businessman, that followed him as he travelled to Beijing to advocate for the preservation of his ethnic language. In Tashi’s telling, the poor standards for Tibetan language instruction in his hometown of Yushu (Gyegu in Tibetan), Qinghai Province, and pushing of Mandarin language instead was tantamount to “a systematic slaughter of our culture.” The video opens with an excerpt of China’s constitution:

All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs.

Two months later, Tashi found himself arrested and accused of “inciting separatism,” a charge liberally applied to repress ethnic minorities in China, especially Tibetans and Uyghurs in China’s far west.

Today, Tashi was sentenced to five years in prison.

  • “Tashi told Times journalists that he did not support Tibetan independence and just wanted the Tibetan language to be taught well in schools,” the Times recalls in its reporting on his sentencing (paywall).
  • “He has been criminalized for shedding light on China’s failure to protect the basic human right to education and for taking entirely lawful steps to press for Tibetan language education,” Tenzin Jigdal of the International Tibet Network told the Times.
  • “Tashi plans to appeal. I believe he committed no crime and we do not accept the verdict,” one of Tashi’s defense lawyers told AFP.
  • Tashi is due for release in early 2021, as the sentence starts from the time of his arrest.
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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.