Jailed Tibetan filmmaker shifted to better conditions

Some news which appears to be good from China, and some that isn’t: Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen has been moved to a women’s prison where conditions are not as harsh, according to his friends and associates at the Switzerland based group Filming for Tibet. They say that Wangchen has been transferred to the Qinghai Provincial Women’s Prison, the main prison for women in China’s Qinghai province. He had been held at the Xichuan labor camp in Siling, in eastern Tibet.

After months of non-communication with the outside world, Wangchen was able to tell a visitor that he is in better health, even though he spent six months in solitary confinement in Xichuan. Detained in March 2008, he was sentenced to six years in prison for subversion in December, 2009. His request for an appeal of his sentence was denied in January 2010. The use of state security charges are typically used to detain journalists who have run afoul of the Beijing government.

His visitor was able to tell Wangchen that he had been awarded CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in November.  He was honored for conceiving and shooting a 25-minute documentary, “Leaving Fear Behind,” about ordinary life in Tibet. He shot the film prior to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, when the government was anxious to suppress any reporting that would reflect poorly on political conditions. Tibetans saw the Games as an opportunity to draw attention to their plight, but street protests grew into ugly ethnic clashes, which the government did its best to suppress. Wangchen was caught in a sweep of at least 10 Tibetan activists, who were held secretly until they surfaced, in custody, for their trials.

In less encouraging news, the people at Filming for Tibet say they have no new information about Jigme Gyatso, a Buddhist monk who helped shoot the film and who has been arrested several times. He has reportedly been detained since September 2012.

Wangchen and his family don’t know why he was transferred to the women’s prison, where there are no other Tibetan inmates or political prisoners, Filming for Tibet said.

In December 2012, CPJ sent more than 20,000 signatures on petitions to the Kyrgyz and Chinese governments calling for the release of Wangchen and Azimjon Askarov, a Kyrgyz journalist and human rights activist who also received a 2012 International Press Freedom Award. Copies of the petition regarding Wangchen, plus photos and video from the award ceremony, were also sent to the prison in Tibet and to the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. The embassy refused to accept the package. The fate of the package we sent to Tibet is unknown.