Shopkeeper who promoted Tibetan language sentenced to five years in China

A Tibetan man who campaigned against the erosion of his language and culture has been imprisoned in China for "inciting separatism".

Tashi Wangchuk, who has been in detention since 2016, was handed a five-year sentence that was immediately branded a "gross injustice" by rights groups.

The case against Mr Tashi, aged 33, was based on comments he made in a New York Times documentary which followed him on a journey from China’s Tibetan regions to Beijing where as he sought to highlight the erosion of Tibetan culture to authorities.

The former shopkeeper was detained only weeks after the nine-minute documentary was released in 2016 and went on trial in January.

The film, titled A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice, was shown as the only evidence at his four-hour hearing. The New York Times’ website is blocked in China.

Joshua Rosenzweig, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said: “Today’s verdict against Tashi Wangchuk is a gross injustice. 

"He is being cruelly punished for peacefully drawing attention to the systematic erosion of Tibetan culture.

"To brand peaceful activism for Tibetan language as ‘inciting separatism’ is beyond absurd.”

Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country’s majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.

China rejects this, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom. Beijing points to huge ongoing investment it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.

Reports said that Mr Tashi could be released by 2021, five years after his arrest. He is expected to appeal the sentence, which was handed down by a judge in the western city of Yushu in Qinghai province.

He told his trial that he does not support Tibetan independence, although he wants ethnic minorities to be able to freely express their own language – a right that is supposedly guaranteed under Chinese law.

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