Tibetan Entrepreneur Has Been Illegally Detained, Family Says

BEIJING — A Tibetan entrepreneur who is a vocal but moderate advocate for bilingual education in schools across Chinese-ruled Tibetan regions has been illegally detained by the police for one and a half months, his family said.

The man, Tashi Wangchuk, 30, who lives with his parents in the western town of Yushu, has written about language policy on hismicroblog. He has highlighted the dearth of meaningful Tibetan language education and expressed concern that many Tibetan children are unable to become fluent in their native language, a widespread worry in the ethnic group.

Mr. Tashi was detained on Jan. 27 and has been held for 44 days. According to Chinese law, the police can generally detain a person for 30 days before officers must ask prosecutors to bring formal arrest charges or release the person. Prosecutors then have seven days to announce a charge.

Mr. Tashi’s family has tried contacting the Yushu police and the town’s main detention center, where relatives say they believe he is, but officers have not given them a reason for the detention and have not let them see Mr. Tashi.

Reached by telephone, a senior police officer in Yushu, Chief Zhang, who gave only his surname, said that his unit, the guobao, was handling the case. Asked for more details, he said he needed to verify whether the case his unit was handling was indeed the same one.


A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice

Worried about the erosion of Tibetan culture and language, one man takes his concerns to Beijing, hoping media coverage and the courts can reverse what he sees as a systematic eradication.

By JONAH M. KESSEL on Publish DateNovember 28, 2015. Photo by Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

  • Embed

Until his detention, Mr. Tashi was posting about Tibet to his Sina Weibo account. Many messages expressed anxieties about the gradual extinction of Tibetan culture. On Jan. 20, for example, Mr. Tashi reshared an item in which an online commentator had asked Khampa Television, the local official Tibetan Khampa-dialect channel, to stop broadcasting, saying “the Tibetan culture you talk about is for commercial and exhibition use.”

Mr. Tashi’s last item, on Jan. 24, was a repost of a comment that urged the legislature and legislative advisory committee of Qinghai Province, where Yushu is, to enhance bilingual education and hire more bilingual civil servants.

Mr. Tashi’s views were published in an article in The New York Times in November. He was the subject of a nine-minute documentary that The Times produced about his efforts to use legal means to bolster Tibetan language education. He was again quoted in an article in December that looked at how Chinese officials in Tibetan areas use horse festivals for propaganda purposes.

In an interview last year, Mr. Tashi said that he was not advocating Tibetan independence and that he was mainly concerned about cultural preservation. He traveled to Beijing that year to seek legal help in filing a lawsuit against local officials, but he has yet to make the filing.

He said he sought to use the law to press officials to have true bilingual education in schools. In most schools in Tibetan regions, the native language is taught in a single class, similar to foreign-language education in the United States. Mandarin is the main teaching language.

“My goal is to change things a little bit, to push to preserve some of our nation’s culture,” he said. “The entire Tibetan ethnic nationality and culture is at risk of disappearing.”

Today’s Headlines: Asia Edition

Get news and analysis from Asia and around the world delivered to your inbox every day in the Asian morning.

Mr. Tashi also said that he was thankful to “all the Chinese people who truly protect minorities” and praised President Xi Jinping for having “promoted a democratic and law-abiding country these last few years.”

Mr. Tashi was detained briefly twice before, he and his family members said. More than a decade ago, he was arrested after he was caught trying to travel illegally to India. (Many Tibetans make illegal pilgrimages to India to try to see the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, who lives in exile.)

In 2012, Mr. Tashi was detained for posting online comments that criticized local officials over land seizures, a common complaint of citizens across China.

As well as managing a shop, Mr. Tashi uses Taobao, an Alibaba platform, to sell goods from his native region to buyers across China. His merchandise included caterpillar fungus, harvested on the Tibetan Plateau, which is popular in Chinese medicine. In 2014, Alibaba featured Mr. Tashi in a video for its investor roadshow before a prominent initial public offering.

Chinese officials consider the winter and early spring to be sensitive periods in Tibet. They watch for protests during Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and around March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. Detentions and security clampdowns increased after March 2008, when a Tibetan revolt that began in Lhasa spread across the plateau. Since 2009, more than 140 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest.

During the annual conclave of the National People’s Congress in Beijing this month, the Chinese government has been eager to promote an image of ethnic harmony. Tibetan delegates there have been spottedwearing pins featuring pictures of President Xi Jinping. On Wednesday, Xinhua, the state news agency, said the government planned to spend $75 million to repair and preserve 156 traditional sky burial sites on the Tibetan Plateau.

On Tuesday, KFC, the American fast food chain, opened a branch in downtown Lhasa, its first in Tibet. Tibet advocacy groups have condemned the arrival. In 2004, the Dalai Lama wrote a letter to Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC, urging it not to bring the chain to Tibet, saying that the company’s treatment of chickens “violates Tibetan values” and that a branch in Tibet would “perpetuate the suffering of huge numbers of chickens.” At the time, KFC abandoned its plans there.