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Tibetan Language Advocate Speaks up Again After Prison Release

Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk - credit: Tashi Wangchuk, weibo
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RFA’s Tibetan Service

Tashi Wangchuk was jailed for 5 years before he was let go last January.

A Tibetan activist is again speaking out against language restrictions after spending five years in prison for discussing the issue with Western media, RFA has learned.

Tashi Wangchuk, a resident of Yulshul township in western China’s Sichuan province, was released on Jan. 28, 2021, after completing a prison term for “inciting separatism” and is now subject to near-constant monitoring by authorities.

Wangchuk, who is around 35 years of age, called this month on Chinese authorities to allow the use of Tibetan in schools, government jobs and other sectors of Tibetan public life, but was summoned and questioned on Jan. 17 by local police, the language rights advocate said on his social media Weibo account next day.

“One of the questions I was asked under interrogation was who had given me the responsibility to advocate for use of the Tibetan language,” Wangchuk said.

“I think that the officials in Yulshul city and the police bureau are just using their power to stop the public from addressing these problems and advocating for the use of their own language.

“This is how the Tibetan language has been endangered, and this is how I am raising awareness among government officials of the language rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

With no exams allowed in the Tibetan language for Tibetans applying for government jobs, young Tibetans have no choice but to study Chinese in their schools and ignore their own language, Wangchuk wrote on his Weibo account on Jan. 3.

“The situation has become so bad that some of them later can’t even read or write in Tibetan,” he said.

Wangdhen Kyab — a senior researcher at London-based Tibet Watch — told RFA that it had once been required that officials in government offices in Tibet learn and understand the Tibetan language.

“But now the situation has completely changed, and the Tibetan language has become increasingly marginalized under China’s so-called Bilingual Education Policy,” he said.

“Even after spending five long years in a Chinese prison, Tashi Wangchuk continues to advocate and fight for the Tibetan language, which shows that this is not a matter of concern only for an individual or his family, but for the long-term protection and survival of the Tibetan language.

“Tashi Wangchuk has spoken up fearlessly about this, and we can see that he will continue to do so despite the Chinese government’s constant harassment and warnings,” Kyab said.

While China claims to uphold the rights of all minorities to access a bilingual education, Tibetan-language schools have been forced to shut down, and school-age children in Tibet regularly receive instruction only in Mandarin Chinese.

Similar policies have been deployed against ethnic Mongolians in China’s Inner Mongolia and Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China’s region of Xinjiang.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses in the monasteries and towns deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say. 

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