Police in Tongde, Qinghai province, arrested Wangchen, a Tibetan documentary filmmaker, shortly after he sent footage filmed in Tibet to his colleagues, according to the production company Filming for Tibet. A 25-minute film titled “Jigdrel” (Leaving Fear Behind) was produced from the tapes.
Officials in Xining, Qinghai province, charged the filmmaker with inciting separatism and replaced the Tibetan’s own lawyer with a government appointee in July 2009, according to international reports. On December 28, 2009, the Xining Intermediate People’s Court in Qinghai sentenced Wangchen to six years’ imprisonment on subversion charges, according to a statement issued by his family.
Filming for Tibet was founded in Switzerland by Gyaljong Tsetrin, a relative of Wangchen who left Tibet in 2002 but maintained contact with people there. Tsetrin told CPJ that he had spoken to Wangchen on March 25, 2008, but lost contact after that. He learned of the detention only later, after speaking by telephone with relatives.
Filming for the documentary was completed shortly before peaceful protests against Chinese rule of Tibet deteriorated into riots in Lhasa and in other Tibetan areas of China in March 2008. The filmmakers had gone to Tibet to ask ordinary people about their lives under Chinese rule in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
The arrest was first publicized when the documentary was screened before a small group of international reporters in a hotel room in Beijing on August 6, 2008. A second screening was interrupted by hotel management, according to Reuters.
Wangchen was born in Qinghai but moved to Lhasa as a young man, according to his published biography. He had relocated with his wife, Lhamo Tso, and four children to Dharamsala, India, before returning to Tibet to begin filming, according to a report published in October 2008 by the South China Morning Post.
In March 2008, Wangchen’s assistant, Jigme Gyatso, was arrested, then released on October 15, 2008, Filming for Tibet said. Gyatso described having been brutally beaten by interrogators during his seven months in detention, according to Filming for Tibet. The Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported that Gyatso was re-arrested in March 2009 and released the next month. The film company reported in October 2012 that Gyatso had been missing since September 20, 2012, and that it feared he had been detained again.
Lhamo Tso told Radio Netherlands Worldwide in 2011 that her husband was working extremely long hours in prison and had contracted hepatitis B.
In October 2013, the film company reportedthat Wangchen continued to suffer from hepatitis B and had not received the medical treatment he needed. They said it had been difficult to obtain reliable information about his condition and that it was believed he had been transferred to Qinghai Provincial Women’s Prison.
Wangchen was scheduled to be released in June 2014. CPJ honored Wangchen with an International Press Freedom Award in 2012.