Shopkeeper gets five-year sentence after imploring Beijing to better protect Tibetan language and culture
A volunteer holds placards of detained Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-cheh and Tibetan education advocate Tashi Wangchuk (right) in Taipei on June 4, 2017. Last month, Tashi was sentenced to five years in jail for inciting separatism. He had provoked the ire of Chinese authorities by requesting the implementation of education policies that incorporated the Tibetan language and culture. (Photo by Sam Yeh/AFP)
On the morning of May 22, the Yushu Intermediate Court in China's Qinghai province delivered its verdict that Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk had been sentenced to five years in jail for inciting separatism.
U.N. human rights experts immediately condemned the ruling, which came five months after the court first heard the case against the shopkeeper, also known as Tashi Woeser.
All he did, rights activists argued, was try to promote the cultural and linguistic rights of the Tibetan minority in China by asking the central government to adopt educational policies that incorporated rather than excluded it.
However after spending two years in detention, and well understanding China's fears about any perceived threat to its Han hegemony, he may already have become resigned to his fate.
The case dates back to Jan. 27, 2016, when The New York Times released a documentary about a lawsuit filed by Tashi, who accused the Chinese Tibet local government of failing to protect and promote Tibetan culture.
After the video was broadcast, he was arbitrarily detained.
His case was finally opened for trial on Jan. 4 this year.
Officials from the embassies of the United States, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union requested authorization to travel from Beijing to Yushu, a county-level city in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Qinghai, to attend the trial but all such requests were rejected.
"Tashi argues that he has been only expressing his own opinions on the Yushu government's measures and programs in teaching the Tibetan language," said Liang Xiaojun, one of Tashi's defense lawyers, before the trial.
"He has not shown any intention or instigated any action to try and split the country," Liang said.
"As such, we have filed a 'not guilty' plea and I think the court will listen carefully to our argument," he added.
"Tashi is only exercising his rights as a citizen of the People's Republic of China. Tibetans are also Chinese citizens."
The international community was also shocked that such a request by an individual could possibly merit incarceration.
"This action by the Chinese government sends a chilling message meant to silence its critics," said a spokesperson for the NYT.
The U.S. State Department also issued a statement expressing its "deep disappointment" when the verdict against Tashi was read out. It requested he be released immediately.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy condemned the verdict as being "a great irony and mockery to China's constitution and its law on regional national autonomy, both of which protect ethnic languages and cultures."
"Other Chinese laws and regulations let Tibetans use and learn their own language," it added.
The center also noted there was no basis for Beijing to consider the language rights of "ethnic minorities" as being in some way detrimental to national security or national unity.
So why did an ordinary Tibetan businessman receive a five-year sentence simply for asking the authorities to implement Tibetan language and cultural education policies in education?
Experts say one reason is because of the Chinese people's ingrained notion that those who belong to different ethnicities are of "a different heart." Moreover this is coupled with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) identifying Tibetan religious culture as a threat to national security under the rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The authorities used this as justification to suppress and further crack down on Tibetan religion, culture and intellectuals.
Some would counter this seems strange given that Beijing invests a considerable sum each year to protect Tibet's religious culture.
But that which it protects is a "Sinicized" version of Tibetan religion and culture. And when it comes to warping reality to better suit the Chinese worldview, or by Sinicizing Tibetan Buddhism and assimilating Tibetans, the government has shown it has no issue with shelling out Renminbi.
The problem is that this is no longer authentic Tibetan Buddhism, but an amended version that has been politicized or imbued with a different ideology.
However, the Tibetan language does not exist merely to serve the whims of the CCP; it is designed to allow Tibetans to express themselves freely.
This expression is not only a reiteration of history and a display of tradition, but more importantly the manifestation of feeling, thinking and having certain desires for one's own country.
Unfortunately, Tashi's case once again proves that Tibetans do not have the right to fully or freely express themselves.
As the CCP continues to enforce what is effectively colonial rule in Tibet, the local culture is starting to serve as a tool for the ruling power, something that can be bent and exploited rather than protected and developed.
Tibetan monasteries, which rank among the chief storehouses of this Chinese province's traditional culture, must be a constant eyesore for the CCP, especially as monks are responsible for inheriting and carrying forward Tibetan culture.
Chinese authorities have expelled monks from monasteries, imposed restrictions on the number and age of monks that can reside in them, and introduced Communist Party organizations to manage temple affairs.
In addition, many young people worry about what tragic fate lies in store for the Tibetan language and culture, with Tashi's case seeming to crystallize all these fears.
But when they voice their concern the government reverts to its default setting by threatening to sue them for "inciting separatism" and then throwing them in jail.
As the CCP's policy appears to be eliminating any notion that Tibet was once a separate nation, successive Chinese governments have continued advancing toward this so-called "magnificent" goal.
This means that people like Tashi, who just want to protect their mother tongue and culture, as seen as obstacles to be removed and severely punished.
Under such circumstances the outcome of any advocacy aimed at protecting Tibet's religious culture can only mirror the fate of Tashi, who now has to spend the next five years locked in a cell for an imagined crime he did not commit.
Such a tragic reality may be beyond the comprehension of many people living in countries that are governed by the rule of law, but for Tibetans, this is not the first case of its kind and it certainly will not be the last.
Song Jieja is a Tibetan writer, commentator and former Chinese spokesman of the exiled Tibetan government. He is currently studying in Spain.
8 June 2018
正遭受著政治帝國主義和文化帝國主義的雙重迫害。 特別進入廿一世紀後，中共大力催生中國的民族主義極端思想， 西藏人更加能感受到兩股帝國主義的壓力無處不在，日益嚴重。
從自覺學習、教授藏語，及呼籲大家關心西藏文化外， 也開始通過中國的法律系統或者國家允許的渠道，進行呼籲， 希望引起中央高層的重視。
藏人利用法律捍衛自身權利的後果是悲慘的，其結果往往是因「 國家分裂罪」而遭拘捕和判刑。這與中國政府推行的「 西藏宗教文化安全威脅論」有著直接的關係。
報道了西藏語言及文化保護者紮西旺秀（又稱紮西唯色）， 對地方政府未能保護和促進西藏文化、語言的訴訟後， 紮西旺秀被任意拘留。
紮西唯色認為自己只是在對玉樹地方政府在藏語教學方面的措施和方 案，提出自己的觀點和意見，沒有煽動分裂國家的意圖和行為， 我們都給他做無罪辯護。法庭辯護表達充分， 我認為他們也都認真聽取了我們的觀點。」
強烈譴責中國政府對紮西旺秀的無理指控：「 紮西旺秀的判決對中國《憲法》和《民族區域自治法》， 是巨大的諷刺，這兩項法律都包含有關保護民族語言和文化的條款。 中國的其它法律和條例也為西藏人提供使用、學習自己語言的選擇。 」
加上習近平執政後， 中共不公開認定西藏宗教文化對國家安全的威脅， 並以此為理據指導對西藏文化和宗教實施全方位的打壓政策， 加大打擊西藏文化和知識界。
中共化」的西藏宗教和文化。好像為了宣傳中國特色的西藏佛教、 同化藏人，政權確實不惜大灑人民幣。但問題是， 中國特色的佛教已不再是西藏佛教。
而是西藏人的自我表述。「這種表述並非只是複述歷史和表演傳統， 更重要的是，對本民族現實處境的感受、思考和訴求。」 紮西旺秀案再次證明，西藏人沒有自我表述的權利。
都因承擔起傳承和弘揚西藏文化的責任，故怎不成為中共的眼中釘？ 故此，政權開展驅逐僧侶、限制僧侶人數和年齡、 黨組織管理寺院事務等。
從自己的成長經歷中，切身感受到西藏語言文化的悲慘命運。 他們發出吶喊時，中共政府即以一貫手段，以「萬能」的「 煽動分裂國家罪」，打他們入黑牢。
歷屆政府針對藏族政策都是一步步朝這「宏偉」目標推進。 而紮西旺秀他們，要保護西藏語言文化， 即是阻礙了中共既定政策的實施，因此，進行嚴懲，是勢在必行。