Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen jailed over pro-Dalai Lama documentary


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Aug 14, 2009

Showing its tough line towards those who question its policies, China has jailed a Tibetan film-maker for six years for a documentary in which ordinary Tibetans praised the Dalai Lama.

The film, Leaving Fear Behind, was made by two Tibetans — Dhondup Wangchen and his friend, monk Golog Jigme — several months before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The two men had just finished the film in March 2008 and were able to have the tapes smuggled out of the country when they were arrested.

A court in the western city of Xining sentenced Dhondup Wangchen, 36, to six years in prison on December 28. The trial was given no publicity, his family was not informed and news of his prison term was released by campaigners.

A statement on the film's website said that Mr Wangchen had not been allowed outside legal aid and the Government had barred a lawyer hired by his family from representing him. His wife, Lhamo Tso, said: "I appeal to the court in Xining to allow my husband to have a legal representative of his own choosing."

In her statement from her home in exile in India, she said: "My children and I feel desperate about the prospect of not being able to see him for so many years. We call on the Chinese authorities to show humanity by releasing him. My husband is not a criminal, he just tried to show the truth."

From a poor Tibetan farming family in western Qinghai province, Mr Wangchen had little formal education but determined after visiting India to return to make a film about Tibetans. Anxious for the safety of his family, he took his wife and four children to India in 2006 before starting to film the documentary.

He trekked across the Himalayan territory for five months asking about topics including Chinese rule, the exiled Dalai Lama and the Olympics, which Beijing was preparing to hold in August 2008.

The self-taught film-maker was arrested in March that year — just as major riots erupted in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and as the protests spread to many Tibetan areas of China. The court in Xining, capital of Qinghai province convicted him of subversion, his family said.

The Tibetan monk who worked on the film spent seven months in jail in 2008 during which colleagues said that he was beaten, hung by his feet from the ceiling for hours and kept tied to a chair for days.

More than 100 Tibetans gave interviews for the film, many voicing frustration about what they see as cultural suppression by China and expressing admiration for the Dalai Lama, who is an object of vilification by Beijing.

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