Filmmaker’s Family To Appeal

Relatives of a jailed Tibetan filmmaker hope they can afford a lawyer to appeal his sentence.

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Dhondup-Wangchen-305.jpg Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen.

HONG KONG—Relatives of a Tibetan filmmaker who was handed a six-year jail sentence after returning from exile to make a documentary about his homeland insisted Thursday that he had committed no crime and said they planned to appeal.

Dhondup Wangchen “was sentenced for counterrevolution and political dissent, but he didn’t plead guilty,” his father, Tsering Dorjee, said. “His brothers-in-law are trying to appeal—they were told to indicate in writing within 15 days if they wanted to appeal.”

“They have limitations and shortcomings including [obtaining] money to hire a lawyer,” he said in a phone interview from Dharamsala, northern India. “In China everything depends on money.”

The Xining Intermediate People's Court handed the sentence on Dec. 28 to Dhondup Wangchen, producer of the documentary “Leaving Fear Behind,” in a secret trial that found him guilty of “splitting the motherland,” according to Tibetan sources.

The exact wording of Dhondup Wangchen's conviction couldn't be officially confirmed, however.

Tsering Dorjee also said his sons-in-law have made “every effort to contact Dhondup Wangchen. They were not informed about the sentencing. When they called and asked about Dhondup Wangchen, only then were they informed that he had been sentenced to six years.”

“They went to Xining but weren’t allowed to meet him. They were able to leave some bedding, clothes, money, and food for him,” he added.

“I am at least happy that he wasn’t killed ... Since he is alive, there is still a ray of hope to see him alive again,” he said, adding, “I don’t have much hope in a new verdict.”

No comment from officials

Dhondup Wangmo, Dhondup Wangchen’s twin sister, also voiced hope for an appeal.

“Dhondup Wangchen is not guilty of any crime,” she said. “I am hopeful we can get him released ... so he can come and meet his old parents, who are not well.”

Meanwhile, Jamyang Tsultim, Dhondup Wangchen's brother, expressed concern for Dhondup Wangchen's health.

"Through his lawyer, we know that he is suffering from Hepatitis B," he said.

Jamyang Tsultim also worried about his brother's ability to communicate while in prison.

"He cannot speak Chinese ... He reads and writes Tibetan, which he learned without going to any school. So we are worried that the authorities may appoint lawyers who could manipulate his situation."

At a regular briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu declined to comment on the sentencing, saying she had no specific information about it.

“What I can tell you is Chinese citizens enjoy all kinds of fundamental rights, including the freedom of speech, based on law,” Jiang told reporters.

In addition to his parents, twin sister, wife, and four children in Dharamsala, Dhondup Wangchen has two older sisters in Bayan Khar [in Chinese, Hualong] county, Tsoshar [Haidong] prefecture, in Qinghai province.

RSF campaign

The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ran a petition campaign following Dhondup Wangchen’s detention on March 23, 2008, calling him “a courageous man who took the risk of returning to his country to interview other Tibetans.”

“Leaving Fear Behind” ( is a 25-minute documentary including interviews with Tibetans in the Tibetan Amdo region expressing their views on Tibet’s exiled leader the Dalai Lama, the Beijing Olympics, and Chinese laws.

The authorities also detained Jigme Gyatso, a monk from the Tibetan Kham region, at the same time, but released him on Oct. 15. He later said he was tortured in detention.

“Leaving Fear Behind” was produced outside China after Dhondup Wangchen managed to send footage out of Tibet before the authorities caught up with him.

It was shown to foreign journalists in Beijing during the Olympic Games.

Protest turned violent in 2008

Many Tibetans have chafed for years under Chinese rule.

What began as a peaceful protest turned to rioting and rocked the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in March 2008.

It then spread to Tibetan-populated regions of western China, causing official embarrassment ahead of the August 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Chinese officials say 21 people—including three Tibetan protesters—died in the violence.

The India-based Tibetan government-in-exile estimates that 220 Tibetans were killed and 7,000 were detained in a subsequent region-wide crackdown.

Original reporting by Dorjee Tso for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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