China must release Tibetan filmmaker

Leaving Fear Behind – documentary by Dhondup Wangchen

Amnesty International has urged the Chinese authorities to release a Tibetan documentary filmmaker who has been jailed for six years for “subversion”.

Dhondup Wangchen was detained after making the film Leaving Fear Behind, in which Tibetans speak out about their lives.

He was sentenced on 28 December 2009 following a secret trial in Xining city, western China. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.

“All Dhondup Wangchen wanted to do was to give a voice to those who ‘are like stars on a sunny day, we can’t be seen’, according to one of the people he interviewed for the film. This is not a crime,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International Asia Pacific deputy director.

Dhondup Wangchen was detained in March 2008. Police held him at Gongshan Hotel, an unofficial place of detention or “black jail”, for part of his detention period.  Police tied him to a chair, beat and punched him in the head and frequently deprived him of food and sleep during interrogations. Dhondup Wangchen suffers from Hepatitis B, for which he has not received any medical treatment.  

“His treatment and the harsh sentence he was given following an unfair trial shows the Chinese authorities’ complete disregard for international human rights standards,” Roseann Rife said.   He was later moved to Xining City No. 1 Detention Centre. He was held incommunicado until April 2009, when he met his family-appointed, Beijing-based lawyers for the first – and only – time. In July 2009, Beijing judicial authorities forced these lawyers to drop the case.

It is unclear if he subsequently had any legal representation or was allowed to defend himself in the trial.

Dhondup Wangchen’s family has not received information directly from the court about the trial, sentence or verdict. They have visited the detention centre several times but have never been allowed to see him.

Dhondup Wangchen began planning the film in 2006; he explained his motives by saying: “It is very difficult [for Tibetans] to go to Beijing and speak out there. So we decided to show the real feelings of Tibetans inside Tibet through this film.”

In October 2007, he began collecting interviews from over 100 Tibetan people. In the film, they talked about their lives and their views on the Dalai Lama and the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

The footage was smuggled out of the country to Switzerland, where Dhondup Wangchen’s cousin edited it down to a 25-minute documentary. It premiered in a screening to foreign journalists in a Beijing hotel on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. Security forces interrupted the screening.