UPDATE: On 22 May 2018 Tashi Wangchuk received a five year prison sentence, more than four months after his trial was held on 4 January 2018. Read Tibet Network’s statement on Tashi’s sentencing. He is now not due to be released until January 2021. On 4 January Tashi’s lawyer Liang Xiaojun, reported (via Twitter) that “the trial of Tashi Wangchuk in the crime of inciting separatism has ended, which took 4 hours from 9:30 to 13:30. The judge announced the court to be closed and the day of sentence will be chosen afterward. The trial went by Mandarin, and the video “A Tibetan’s Journey to Justice” was screened on the court as an evidence. Other related evidence were also shown. The prosecution, the defence and Tashi Wangchuk himself have all expressed their points of view. Tashi’s expression was very clear and his views were concise.” Read Tibet Network’s statement on Tashi’s trial
Tashi Wangchuk is a Tibetan shopkeeper and advocate for greater Tibetan language education in schools in Tibet where mandarin has become the sole language of instruction. He was detained by Chinese authorities on 27 January 2016 and formally arrested in March 2016 on suspicion of “inciting separatism”. Now convicted of “inciting separatism”, Tashi Wangchuk will spend a total of five years in prison and is at risk of torture and other ill- treatment.
He expressed his anxieties on social media about Tibetan children being unable to speak their native language fluently, and the gradual extinction of Tibetan culture. In 2015 the New York Times, in “A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice”, reported his attempts to file a lawsuit against local officials over the lack of Tibetan language education in schools, but no law firm would help him.
Though critical of the threats to Tibetan language and culture, Tashi has never written about Tibetan independence. His language campaign is in line China’s constitution: “[e]thnic minorities’ right to learn, use and develop their own spoken and written languages is guaranteed in accordance with the law” (Article 4). Amidst China’s current crackdown, Tashi Wangchuk’s case is an example of how Tibetans face additional persecution for any activity perceived as a threat, through charges of “separatism”.
Tashi Wangchuk told the New York Times that one of the reasons he sought to highlight the importance of language was because he could not find a place where his two teenage nieces could continue studying Tibetan, after officials forced an informal school run by monks in his area to stop offering language classes for laypeople. Officials had also ordered other monasteries and a private school in the area not to teach the language to laypeople. And public schools had dropped true bilingual education in Chinese and Tibetan, teaching Tibetan only in a single class, like a foreign language, if they taught it at all.
In September 2016, prosecutors concluded their investigation and sent his case to a criminal court in Yushu prefecture, Qinghai for trial. In December 2016, they took the unusual step of asking the court to send the case back  to them for further investigation. The re-investigation concluded on 4 January 2017, and the case has now been returned to the court for trial , and the document, submitted to the Procuratorate (Prosecutor) by police indicates that the investigation into Tashi Wangchuk focuses on the New York Times documentary about his unsuccessful efforts to use the legal system to challenge Chinese government policies.
On 26 May 2017, a Communication to China by five UN Special Procedures mandate holders was made public; they expressed “serious concern at the arrest, the initial incommunicado detention and the continued detention of Tashi Wangchuk, as well as his limited right to counsel, the denial of presenting the evidence against him and the irregularities in the criminal investigation”. They further expressed concern about the charge of “inciting separatism” which “criminalize(s) the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and his defense of cultural rights”, according to UN experts.
Neither Tashi Wangchuk’s indictment nor any evidence of him having committed a crime have been made public. During Tashi Wangchuk’s year in detention his lawyers, Lin Qilei and Liang Xiaojun have only been able to visit him four times (19 June, 8 & 9 September, 2 November). He had no access to his family until September 2016. He is also at risk of torture while in detention; in December 2015 the United Nations Committee Against Torture found that that the practice of torture and ill-treatment was“still deeply entrenched in [China’s] criminal justice system”, which “overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions”. This included “numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans.”
Language is a bedrock of any culture and identity and the Tibetan language has been steadily undermined under Chinese rule over the past six decades. The increasing dominance of the Chinese language is used by Chinese authorities to further undermine Tibetan culture, and the marginalization of the Tibetan language, including its withdrawal from the curriculum, is counter to provisions in China’s own laws, specifically the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law; Chinese legal protections for language and culture are not implemented in Tibet.