Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province have transferred a Tibetan filmmaker to another prison after he complained that staff were “unfairly” treating Tibetan inmates at his previous facility, family sources say.
Dhondup Wangchen, who produced a politically sensitive documentary on conditions for Tibetans living under Chinese rule and is serving a six-year sentence for activities aimed at “splitting the motherland," is now being held in isolation at the Qinghai Provincial Women's Prison, after months under solitary confinement in Qinghai's Xichuan Prison.
During a Jan. 15 visit with family members at the women's prison, Wangchen spoke of enduring harsh treatment and isolation at Xichuan Prison, his cousin Gyaljong Tsultrim told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday.
He said Wangchen's severe treatment and transfer were likely due to his speaking up about complaints.
“Dhondup Wangchen had earned great respect from the other Tibetan prisoners,” Tsultrim said.
“He had also written a letter complaining of unfair practices in the prison and the mistreatment of Tibetan political prisoners by the Chinese prison staff.”
“The letter went public and that may have been the cause of his solitary confinement from March 12, 2012 until he was transferred to the Women’s Prison,” Tsultrim said.
Concerns over isolation
Tsultrim, president of the film group Filming for Tibet, said that while he and other family members in exile are relieved that Wangchen’s health is stable, they are concerned about his isolation in custody.
They hope that he will now be granted access to reading materials, a privilege denied to him in Xichuan Prison, Tsultrim said.
Wangchen was taken into custody on March 23, 2008 after returning from exile to work on the film Leaving Fear Behind. The documentary was produced outside China after Wangchen managed to send footage out of Tibet before the authorities caught up with him.
The film was shown to foreign journalists in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, angering and embarrassing China.
After his arrest, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ran a petition campaign for Wangchen, calling him “a courageous man who took the risk of returning to his country to interview other Tibetans," and in November the Committee to Protect Journalists honored him with its 2012 International Freedom Award.
In March 2008, authorities also detained Golog Jigme Gyatso, a monk from the Tibetan Kham region, who had assisted Wangchen in the making of his film.
Released in October 2008 after being tortured, Gyatso was detained for a second time in March 2009, disappeared in September 2012, and is believed again to be in custody.
Reported and translated by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.