HONG KONG—Authorities in the western Chinese province of Qinghai have extended the detention of a Tibetan writer who signed an open letter critical of the government’s quake relief efforts in the region, his daughter said.
“It is now one week since he was detained,” Yeshi Tsomo, daughter of the Tibetan writer Tagyal, said in an interview. “I went to see him every day but wasn’t allowed to meet him.”
Two days after police took Tagyal into custody with a warrant accusing him of separatism, she said, “My mother and I saw an officer at the gate of the detention center with a letter in his hand. I saw my father’s name and fingerprint. This letter was meant to extend my father’s detention.”
The writer, who publishes under the pen name Shogdung, was one of eight intellectuals who signed an April 17 letter that expressed sorrow over the disaster that left more than 2,000 people dead, mostly Tibetans, and urged wariness of Chinese government relief efforts.
Yeshi Tsomo said officials have told her family that her father remains in custody at the Xining Metropolitan Detention Center No. 1.
“We are not allowed to visit him or deliver food,” she said.
“It was written in the notice that he was detained for his attempt to commit separatist activities. When he was taken away, the Chinese authorities took away his bank card and also his ID. My mother cannot read, but I do,” she said.
“We are extremely worried about his health and whether he may have been subjected to beatings.”
‘A great loss’
“Father’s health was good overall. Since he reads a lot, his eyesight is weak. He has some problems with his neck and doesn’t use a pillow when he sleeps,” Yeshi Tsomo said.
“This is a great loss for his family. Everyone, whoever he or she may be, wants freedom of expression. We should have that right. My mother, sister, and I are experiencing great pain and suffering. So we hope that our father is released as soon as possible.”
The letter Tagyal signed had urged people to help victims by offering food, clothing, and medicine, but warned them to avoid official relief channels.
“Better to send [money] to the disaster zone with people you trust, because nobody can tell where there will be corruption,” said the letter, which was posted on several Web sites, including the overseas-based Boxun.com, which is critical of the Chinese government.
“Just as the news from the mouthpiece for the [Communist] Party organizations cannot be believed, we dare not believe in the Party organization, which issued the order stopping people from going to the disaster zone for political reasons,” it said.
Tagyal worked at the Qinghai Nationalities Publishing House, in the provincial capital, Xining.
Bookstore close earlier
The Xining police department has declined to comment on the case, and whether the open letter was the direct cause for his detention was unclear—although Chinese authorities have been at pains to quash any criticism of its relief efforts in the Tibetan region.
Tagyal’s wife, Lhatso, said last week that authorities had ordered the family bookshop closed on April 12, two days before the deadly quake.
Tagyal, 45, is a leading intellectual who in the past has written books that largely aligned with the Chinese government’s views on modernization, religion, and culture in Tibet.
However, he published a book this year that was far more critical of the government in the wake of widespread protests against Chinese rule that swept through Tibet in 2008.
China's powerful propaganda department has meanwhile called for curbs on reporting of negative news about the earthquake that struck Yushu county, ahead of the opening of the Shanghai World Expo this weekend.
In its April 25 directive to news organizations, the central propaganda department warned state media not to focus too much on the relief work carried out by Tibetans themselves in the worst-hit regions of the remote province.
"Talk of the earthquake in 'scientific terms'; do not criticize the earthquake forecasting agency; do not focus too much on the efforts by Buddhist monks to help the victims; and give extensive coverage to the appeals for donations organized by state-owned CCTV," the directive said.
Tibetan residents of Yushu, where more than 2,000 people—mostly Tibetans—died in the April 14 quake, said state-run media coverage of the rescue and clean-up operation was already far from reflecting the situation on the ground.
Original reporting by Palden Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo.Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.