HONG KONG—Authorities in the western Chinese province of Qinghai have detained a Tibetan writer who signed an open letter critical of the government’s quake relief efforts in the region, according to his wife.
The writer, who publishes under the name Shogdung, but whose real name is Tagyal, 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.
“The Chinese gave the order to close our bookstore on April 12 and took away all the books by my husband,” his wife Lhatso said in an interview. “On April 23, five police officers, including two Tibetans, came to our home and took away my husband.”
“We took some food for him but the authorities didn’t allow us to see him—they wouldn’t even accept the food.”
His daughter said the arrest warrant accused her father of “sedition [to] split the country.”
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.
The Xining police department refused to answer questions regarding his whereabouts, saying it had no comment and referring questions to the Ministry of Public Security, according to the Associated Press.
It is unclear whether the open letter was the direct cause of his detention. The Chinese government has been at pains to quash any criticism of its relief efforts in the Tibetan region.
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 anti-government protests in Tibet in 2008.
“Tibetans have strong religious beliefs, and they would never believe or trust the communists,” said Shao Jiang, a rights activist based in Britain who has worked for better ties between majority Han Chinese and China’s ethnic minorities.
Shao said Tagyal's letter might seem threatening to the government’s relief efforts and credibility, because it would likely encourage people to use local, grassroots nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
"NGOs would bypass local bureaucracy, which is widely believed to be corrupted, to handle the disaster relief funds," Shao Jiang said.
"The government is always concerned about the development and growth of grassroots NGOs that understand the local situation more than anyone else, and these NGOs are trusted by local people."
Original reporting by Dorje Tso and Palden Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service and by Zhang Anan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated from the Tibetan by Palden Gyal and from the Mandarin by Jia Yuan. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and edited by Luisetta Mudie.