NEW YORK—The conviction and sentencing of Tibetan businessman Tashi Wangchuk to five years of imprisonment as a result of his peaceful language rights advocacy is both an unjust sentencing and an attack on Tibetan language rights, PEN America said today.

On May 22, Tibetan businessman and language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for “inciting separatism.” The charges stem from a series of 2015 New York Times interviews in which Wangchuk described his vision for Tibetan language rights. Initially arrested in January 2016 after attempting to file a lawsuit against local officials over the lack of Tibetan-language education, Wangchuk has already spent over two years in detention. He was held in secret detention for almost the first two months of his time in prison, where he reportedly underwent repeated beatings.

China’s Constitution, as well as its Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, explicitly protect the linguistic rights of ethnic minorities, including guarantees of the freedom of ethnic nationalities to use their own spoken and written language. China also ​has ​commitments under international law to safeguard minority language rights, including through Articles 29(c) and 30 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which ​have China as a signatory.

“This result is a manifestly unjust sentence against a man who has committed no crime. It is also an assault on peaceful Tibetan language rights advocacy,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “​The preservation of language rights is a fundamental building block of the right to free expression. Tashi Wangchuk should never have spent a single day in detention for his ​efforts merely to protect and preserve his native language. We have previously called upon the Chinese authorities to release Tashi Wangchuk, and we repeat that call in the wake of this unjust ruling.”

PEN America previously called for Wangchuk’s release at the advent of his January 2018 trial, declaring that “the idea that peaceful advocacy for Tibetan language rights somehow constitutes ‘separatism’ is absurd and offensive.” In its March 2018 report, Forbidden Feeds, PEN America noted that Tibet was a “special target” for social media censorship and repression by authorities, and identified seven indicative cases where Tibetans had been punished for their social media use within the past several years.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator:​