[lg policy] Free Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Jan 15 10:00:14 EST 2018


 Free Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk
January 13, 2018 11:28 pm

*Calling for the right to use Tibetan language in schools is not a crime*

Adam N. Lee, chinaworker.info

A nine-minute video made by the New York Times may cost Tibetan language
rights activist Tashi Wangchuk fifteen years in prison. He is the latest
victim in an unprecedented crackdown
<http://chinaworker.info/en/2017/11/18/16310/>in which hundreds of
dissidents and rights advocates have been arrested, abducted, disappeared,
tortured, forced to appear in televised ‘confessions’ and in many cases
served with harsh prison sentences as a deterrent to others who would
challenge Beijing’s policies.

32-year-old Tashi, a shopkeeper from the Tibetan prefecture of Yushu in
Qinghai province, was arrested two months after featuring in the Times’
video documentary. He was held for two years in secret detention and then
tried on 4 January this year for “inciting separatism”. The video film (see
below) was played at the four-hour trial and according to Tashi Wangchuk’s
defence counsel was the main “evidence” against him. The court will
pronounce sentence at a later date but it is feared he could be handed a
fifteen-year prison sentence.

China’s courts are under tight regime control and have a 99 percent
conviction rate
<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/12193202/Chinese-courts-convict-more-than-99.9-per-cent-of-defendants.html>,
100 percent in the case of political trials like this one. International
observers have condemned the detention and trial of Tashi Wangchuk,
with Amnesty
International calling it a “sham”
<https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/01/china-sham-trial-against-tibetan-activist/>
based on “blatantly trumped-up charges”.

The case also highlights the worsening oppression of ethnic minority groups
in China. Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and other minorities including Kazakhs
<https://thediplomat.com/2017/11/in-xinjiang-ethnic-kazakhs-and-kyrgyz-face-increased-pressure/>who
mostly also live in Xinjiang and are now under increasingly ferocious
repression, face discrimination, loss of rights, repression and economic
hardship. This fate is also being extended to “privileged” and
nominally “autonomous”
Hong Kong <https://stophkrepression.net/> under current regime policies.

Since mass protests erupted in Tibet in 2008, a state crackdown in the name
of fighting “separatism” and “terrorism” has escalated to unprecedented
levels. In his short video interview, Tashi Wangchuk describes the life of
ordinary Tibetans as “full of pressure and fear”. Some facts illustrate the
anguish of the Tibetan people under China’s ultra-repressive policies:

   - There have been 140 self-immolations since 2009 – desperate protests
   against repression.
   - There are more than 1,800 Tibetan political prisoners – many are in
   prison for writing or speaking out.

*New York Times video documentary, “A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice”:*

*Not a revolutionary*

Tashi is clearly not a revolutionary nor an advocate of Tibetan
independence. New York Times reporter Johan M. Kessel
<https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/insider/tashi-wangchuk-documentary-china.html>,
who made the film of Tashi, says that during their meeting the Tibetan
specifically told him he did not support independence. Like many others who
have been targets of the crackdown of recent years they have simply called
for reform within the system, rather than advocating more radical political
change or the downfall of the dictatorship.

“All Tashi Wangchuk has done is peacefully advocate for constitutionally
guaranteed rights,” said Human Rights Watch China director Sophie
Richardson. “If Chinese authorities consider that ‘inciting separatism,’
it’s hard to tell what isn’t.”

Tashi went to Beijing to appeal for the restoration of Tibetan language
teaching in schools – which, like other minority languages, has effectively
been eliminated at every level from primary education upwards in favour of
Mandarin (Putonghua) as the only language of instruction. Tibetan,
Mongolian and the Turkic Uighur language, for example, can be studied on
the same basis as English or French, i.e. as “foreign” languages, but they
are no longer languages of instruction.

This was not the case in the past. Even during the Mao years – universally
referred to as a ‘dark age’ of repression – such a rigid and heavy-handed
language policy was not applied. And certainly the current policies of the
Chinese regime have nothing in common with genuine Marxism or socialism –
take for example the extremely sensitive and democratic approach taken by
Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, towards the language question:

*“That is why Russian Marxists say that there must be no compulsory
official language, that the population must be provided with schools where
teaching will be carried on in all the local languages, that a fundamental
law must be introduced in the constitution declaring invalid all privileges
of any one nation and all violations of the rights of national minorities.”
[Lenin, Is a Compulsory Official Language Needed? January 1914]*

The regime’s claim that a single official language, i.e. Mandarin, is
needed to facilitate economic development and integration is a false and
blinkered standpoint. It reflects a crude police mentality that coercion is
the answer to every problem. Many economically developed societies operate
multi-lingual education systems and business environments – from
Switzerland to Singapore. But Beijing’s language policies have been adapted
to its nationalistic agenda for maintaining political control by the centre.

*Read more: Lenin against a compulsory official language ➵*
<https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/jan/18.htm>

*Fracturing of China*

In the past decade, as Beijing’s fears of mass unrest and the fracturing of
China have risen, extensive repressive measures have been implemented
especially in Tibetan regions and in Muslim-majority Xinjiang.
<http://chinaworker.info/en/2017/05/03/14761/> Tens of thousands of
auxiliary police have been recruited, religious establishments have been
militarised, and an unprecedented ‘deep state’ has been assembled with the
latest mass surveillance technology. These methods are being tested in
minority regions to be used against the Han Chinese majority – striking
workers or anti-pollution protesters – in the future.

The current language policies are in breach of China’s constitution which
includes guarantees of the freedom of ethnic nationalities to use their own
spoken and written language. These clauses, like much else in the
constitution (which also ‘guarantees’ democratic rights and freedom of
speech) are meaningless. This is central to the alleged ‘crime’ of Tashi
Wangchuk who, as shown in the Times’ documentary, went to Beijing to
petition the authorities to uphold the Tibetan people’s constitutional
language rights.

His trial for “inciting separatism” therefore sends an unmistakeable
message and perhaps not the one the Chinese regime intends. They want to
project strength, their resolve to crush opposition. But another message,
intended or not, is that it is impossible to pursue ‘reform’ within China’s
authoritarian system. If you call for even very limited reforms, especially
if you do this publicly or embarrass the dictatorship by proffering its own
constitution, you will be punished with the same malice as if you advocated
revolution. In this way, the dictatorship is leaving only one road open to
those who want and need change – the road of revolution.

Rather than create ‘stability’, the unprecedented crackdown in China’s
ethnic minority regions is breeding an explosive mix of disillusionment,
fear and anger, and makes the Chinese regime the most powerful promoter of
demands for national independence, as it has become in Hong Kong. With such
policies, China’s rule is not strengthened but actually undermined in the
longer term. Tashi Wangchuk’s futile mission to Beijing and the regime’s
cold-blooded reaction have made him a hero among Tibetan youth. But will
the younger generation share his belief that it is possible to make Beijing
‘listen’ to reasonable arguments?

Only by building working class organisations that unite the oppressed of
all ethnicities in common struggle, is it possible to defeat repression and
the arbitrary rule of a dictatorial regime. This is part of a global
struggle against grotesque inequality, national oppression, environmental
destruction, war and foreign occupation. These horrors flow from the nature
of global capitalism which is a major supporting pillar of the current
‘Communist’ regime in China.

Read more: Tibetans in revolt – What is the way forward? ➵
<http://chinaworker.info/en/2013/03/13/514/>

Read more: Tibet and the National Question ➵
<http://chinaworker.info/en/2008/04/21/3265/>

Tags: Independence <http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/independence/> Language
Rights <http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/language-rights/> National Question
<http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/national-question/> New York Times
<http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/new-york-times/> Repression
<http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/repression/> Tashi Wangchuk
<http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/tashi-wangchuk/> Tibet
<http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/tibet/> Xinjiang
<http://chinaworker.info/en/tag/xinjiang/>

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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