HONG KONG—Authorities in the western Chinese province of Qinghai appear to be delaying the prosecution of a Tibetan writer who wrote a book supporting a campaign of peaceful protest and civil disobedience in Tibet, relatives said.
"The police told us that his case is quite special because it has to do with different ethnicities," Yeshi Tsomo, daughter of the Tibetan writer Tagyal, said in an interview.
"They must have given a nod to the state prosecutor because the case is still with the police."
Tagyal, 47, who publishes under the pen name Shogdung, was first detained April 23, and was later formally arrested for "instigating to split the motherland."
Shogdung’s family has not been allowed to visit him since his detention. Several elderly people from his village were recently able to bring tsampa (roasted barley flour) to the writer in prison, but were not allowed to see him.
An employee who answered the phone at the Xining public security department declined to comment on Tagyal's case. "I don't know about this," he said.
Officials at the Xining People's Procuratorate, or state prosecutor, were reluctant to address the case directly. "It's not convenient for me to talk about these things," he said. "I have only just started here."
"If there is to be a trial, then an announcement will be made at the time," one official said.
A second official said many factors are involved in setting a date for a trial.
"It depends on the seriousness of the case, on its position in the queue," he said. "We have to take a lot of different factors into consideration."
"If the case is sent back for further investigation, then it's not even sure which office it will end up in."
Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who defended jailed Tibetan environmentalist and businessman Karma Samdrup, said it is hard to gauge what will happen to Tagyal's case next.
"If the court wants to go ahead with the trial, it won't wait one minute, and if it doesn't, it will ignore the case for years," Pu said. "This falls under national anti-separatism laws."
A member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile based in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala said Tagyal is a well-known Tibetan-language author.
"Before, his point of view was very close to that of the Chinese authorities, but since [the unrest of] 2008, his book Distinguishing Heaven and Earth is probably the the single biggest reason for his detention," the parliament member, Kelsang Gyaltsen, said.
The Tibetan-language book analyzed the Tibetan unrest of March 2008, and called on Tibetans to use a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience to protest against Chinese authorities.
Kelsang said the arrest of formerly pro-Beijing Tibetans like Tagyal is unlikely to help matters in Tibet.
"Oppressing Tibetans in this way won't have the effect of making Tibet more harmonious or more stable," he warned.
Yeshi Tsomo said the family is looking for a lawyer to defend her father and has been told that they can hire one from elsewhere in China.
At the time of his formal arrest, Tagyal was detained in the Xining No. 1 Detention Center. He previously worked at the Qinghai Nationalities Publishing House, in the provincial capital.
He was one of eight intellectuals who signed an April 17 letter that expressed sorrow over an April 14 earthquake in China's western Qinghai province that left more than 2,000 people dead, mostly Tibetans, and urged wariness of Chinese government relief efforts.
The letter Tagyal signed had urged people to help victims by offering food, clothing, and medicine, but warned them to avoid official relief channels.
The Xining police department has declined to comment on the case, and whether the open letter was the direct cause for his detention is unclear—although Chinese authorities have been at pains to quash any criticism of its relief efforts in the Tibetan region.
Tagyal’s wife, Lhatso, has said authorities ordered the family bookshop closed on April 12, two days before the deadly quake.
Original reporting by Hai Nan in Cantonese and Qiao Long in Mandarin. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.