Tibet: Filmmaker Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison
A Tibetan filmmaker who made a documentary that was highly critical of the Chinese government's policies in Tibet has been sentenced to six years in prison, a family friend said Thursday (7th January).
Dhondup Wangchen, 35, was charged with trying to split the country and sentenced on Dec. 28, said Wangpo Tethong. The family only recently found out about the punishment because court officials in the northwestern Chinese city of Xining have been withholding information from relatives, he said.
"(Relatives) went to the court to get further information, this was yesterday, and they came back without anything," Wangpo said, adding that the family has not received any information in writing.
Calls to multiple departments at the Xining Intermediate People's Court rang unanswered Thursday.
Dhondup Wangchen has appealed, said Li Dunyong, a lawyer hired by the family who was forced off the case and replaced by a government-appointed attorney.
"Leaving Fear Behind" features ordinary Tibetans and the filmmaker himself saying that Beijing's policies in Tibet are threatening the remote region's traditional Buddhist culture. It was filmed in Tibet and other ethnically Tibetan areas of China in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
"The Chinese are saying that they have made so many improvements in Tibet. But we don't see any improvement at all," Dhondup Wangchen said in his film.
"The truth is that Tibetans are not free to speak of their suffering," he said.
Dhondup Wangchen was arrested in March 2008, shortly before violent riots broke out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The riots led to the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades.
China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.
Wangpo, who lives in Zurich, Switzerland, accused Chinese authorities of beating Dhondup Wangchen during the early part of his detention but said treatment improved after the Olympics. He also said the filmmaker has contracted hepatitis while imprisoned.
The documentary was edited by Dhondup Wangchen's cousin in Switzerland, after the filmmaker smuggled his tapes out of China.