2012 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee
(Courtesy of CNN)
Dhondup Wangchen is a self-taught Tibetan documentary filmmaker who conceived and shot the film “Leaving Fear Behind“ to portray life in Tibet in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Shortly after his footage was smuggled overseas, Wangchen disappeared into Chinese detention. His colleagues in Switzerland founded the film company Filming for Tibet to produce the 25-minute film from interviews with Tibetans that Wangchen had taped.
In March 2008, the same month that Wangchen was detained, peaceful Tibetan protests deteriorated into clashes with Han Chinese residents of Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and Tibetan areas of western China. Wangchen became the first of at least 10 Tibetans who were imprisoned as Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on independent coverage of tensions in Tibet.
Knowledge of Wangchen’s whereabouts came only after Jigme Gyatso, a monk who had helped shoot the film, was released after being jailed for seven months. A year later, in December 2009, Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison. In January 2010, he was denied appeal.
Wangchen’s family was not told of the charges against him, and they learned secondhand that he had been convicted of inciting separatism. He has contracted hepatitis B in prison.
Wangchen moved his wife, Lhamo Tso, and four children to India before beginning the film, in order to protect them from reprisal by Chinese authorities. Tso, who has traveled internationally to campaign for her husband’s release, has ensured that Wangchen’s case remains in the public eye.
“Leaving Fear Behind” has screened around the world. Filming for Tibet is now at work on a second film from the same material.
UPDATE: On November 20, 2018, Dhondup Wangchen attended CPJ’s 2018 International Press Freedom Awards and received his award in person.
The text of Dhondup Wangchen’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.
Good evening everyone,
I would like to thank CPJ for having me today, and for its recognition of my work and support over many years when I was in prison. It’s a big honor. In 2007, I along with some of my friends traveled around Tibet and interviewed people about their opinion of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, their living conditions, and China’s occupation of Tibet. Those interviews were later made into a 24-minute film called Leaving Fear Behind.
For this, I was sentenced to six years in prison. I finished my prison term in 2014 and was under tight surveillance after that. Last year around December, I finally decided to risk my life by fleeing abroad. Every year the conditions inside Tibet get worse: More restrictions on traveling, practicing religion and culture, and severe limits on freedom of the press. Tibet is still isolated and has become the biggest prison in the world.
I would like to use this stage to urge everyone to demand China allow more access to Tibet and to report more the stories and situation of the Tibetan people.