Tibetan filmmaker denied appeal to 6-year sentence

New York, January 7, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Xining provincial court in Qinghai province to allow imprisoned Tibetan documentary filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen to appeal a six-year prison sentence he was given last week.

The appeal period expires today, but the journalist was unable to file after being denied access to his chosen lawyer, according to his Switzerland-based film company, Filming for Tibet. His family has not been formally notified of his trial or the verdict, the company said in a statement. CPJ was unable to reach the filmmaker’s wife, Lhamo Tso, by phone.

Filming for Tibet said the court sentenced Dhondup Wangchen on December 28, 2009. Gyaljong Tsetrin, Dhondup Wangchen’s cousin, told CPJ by telephone from Switzerland today he had learned of the sentencing from contacts in Xining, but had not been able to determine the exact nature of the charge against his cousin. International news reports said last year the journalist was to be tried behind closed doors for state subversion. The filmmaker has been infected with Hepatitis B since his imprisonment and is being held in poor conditions without enough food or sleep, Gyaljong Tsetrin told CPJ.

Chinese police arrested Dhondup Wangchen in March 2008, after he completed filming for the documentary “Leaving Fear Behind.” Dechen Pemba, the film’s spokesperson, described his secret detention on the CPJ blog last month.

“The detention and trial of Dhondup Wangchen have been secretive and against Chinese law,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Chinese authorities should not persecute a journalist for the straightforward act of filmmaking. He should be allowed to appeal this unjust sentence.”

Dhondup Wangchen, a farmer without formal education or filmmaking experience, was born in Qinghai but lived in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as a young man, according to his film company’s Web site. He and his colleagues conceived the idea of filming interviews with ordinary Tibetans about China’s rule of Tibet in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. His wife and four children moved to Dharamsala, India, before he began the project to protect them from reprisal by Chinese authorities if they objected to his filming.

Dhondup Wangchen’s assistant, Jigme Gyatso, was arrested on March 23, 2008. Jigme Gyatso, a monk, was released on October 15, 2008, according to international news reports. After he described being beaten in detention to journalists, he was briefly rearrested in March 2009 and released the next month, according to Filming for Tibet.