European Parliament adopts urgency resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Tashi Wangchuk and Tibetan monk Choekyi

Brussels – The European Parliament adopted today a new urgency resolution on China, expressing deep concern regarding the cases of two Tibetan political prisoners, the language advocate Tashi Wangchuk and the monk Choekyi.

The resolution which also covers the cases of Chinese human rights activists Wu Gan, Xie Yang, and Lee Ming-cheh “expresses its deep concern at the arrest and continued detention of Tashi Wangchuk, as well as his limited right to counsel, the lack of evidence against him and the irregularities in the criminal investigation; calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Tashi Wangchuk”.

“The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) welcomes the adoption of this resolution, which underscores once again the critical role of the European Parliament in standing up for victims of human rights abuses in China and Tibet” said ICT’s EU Policy Director Vincent Metten. “We hope that this strong-worded resolution, along with the expressions of concerns by a number of European governments and EU institutions in the last few months, will have an impact on the outcome of Tashi Wangchuk’s trial and on Choekyi’s condition. We also applaud the call for the resumption of the dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama and his representatives, the condemnation of anti-Buddhism campaigns and the adoption of the Counterterrorism Law, which could lead to the penalisation of peaceful expression of Tibetan culture and religion”.

Tashi Wangchuk, a 32-year old Tibetan shopkeeper, was detained on 27 January 2016 following his appearance in November 2015 in A Tibetan’s Journey to Justice, a video published by the New York Times, which documented his advocacy for Tibetan language education. Wangchuk was tried this month on charges of “inciting separatism”. The verdict is still pending, but this offense can lead up to 15 years of imprisonment, and Tashi Wangchuk also remains at high risk of torture and ill-treatment.

The resolution of the European Parliament adds to a number of other European official statements expressing concerns about or condemning Tashi Wangchuk’s detention. The European Union has for instance already taken a firm stand on Tashi Wangchuk, e.g. in a statement on the occasion of the 2016 International Human Rights Day, in a statement at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, in a statement by the EEAS after the 35th EU-China Dialogue on Human Rights in June 2017 and most recently via its delegation in Beijing on occasion of International Human Rights Day. Germany has raised Tashi Wangchuk’s case on several occasions including at the 35th and at the 36th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. In February 2017, a joint communication on his case was issued by five United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Additionally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to his case in his opening statement at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada as well as the European Union have sent diplomats to travel to Yushu to attend Tashi Wangchuk’s trial on 4 January but were not permitted to observe the proceedings of the trial.

The Tibetan language – the bedrock of Tibetan culture, religion and identity – has been steadily undermined under Chinese rule over the past six decades. Chinese authorities focus on the dominance of the Chinese language to the detriment of Tibetan, and also marginalize the Tibetan language by withdrawing it from the curriculum. Chinese policies that undermine Tibetan language run counter to provisions in China’s own laws, specifically the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law as well as China’s constitution which states in article 4 that “all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages”.

In the resolution, Members of the European Parliament also called on the Chinese authorities to “release the Tibetan monk Choekyi immediately and unconditionally” and urged “the Chinese Government to allow his relatives and the lawyers of his choice to visit him and, in particular, to provide him with adequate medical care”. Choekyi’s health deteriorated after he was reportedlytortured and forced to perform hard labour in prison. He is now in a critical condition, according to reports. The Tibetan monk was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to four years on charges of conducting ‘separatist activities’, for wearing a shirt with Tibetan text ‘kue-gya-ton-su’ (which roughly translates into ‘celebrating His Holiness’s 80th Birthday’).

Since 2008, the Chinese authorities have cracked down on display of loyalty to the Dalai Lama, and Choekyi’s is not an isolated case of Tibetans imprisoned for celebrating his birthday -in December 2016, nine Tibetans, including four Kirti monks and five laypeople were also handed sentences ranging from five to 14 years in prison for the same ‘crime’ (see ICT report – Tibetans sentence to long prison terms for involvement in Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday celebration).