Update: As of July 2019, the LSA joined PEN America in calling for the release of Mr. Tashi by signing their petition. We encourage members to join us in the support of this effort to protect linguistic freedom. Click here to sign the petition.

Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan language rights activist and entrepreneur from Yushu prefecture, was arrested by the Chinese government in 2016 on charges of "inciting separatism." On January 4, 2018, he was tried and still awaits a verdict. Mr. Tashi could be sentenced for up to 15 years for his language advocacy, despite all of his efforts being legal, according to his attorneys.

Mr. Tashi became a language activist upon failing to find a place for his niece to study the Tibetan language after classes at local monasteries had been shut down. Mr. Tashi's advocacy efforts involve promoting bilingual education throughout Tibet. He has never advocated for Tibetan independence from China. In fact, Mr. Tashi has praised Chinese president Xi Jinping for having “promoted a democratic and law-abiding country these last few years.” His goals have not been separatist; he has merely wanted to ensure that Tibetan children have the opportunity to be educated in their language. Mr. Tashi also maintained a blog in which he expressed his fears about the deterioration of Tibetan culture. In a short documentary with the New York Times, he remarked, “In politics, it’s said that if one nation wants to eliminate another nation, first they need to eliminate their spoken and written language...In effect, there is a systematic slaughter of our culture.” According to Free Tibet, his arrest was most likely meant as a punishment for his advocacy and correspondence with the New York Times, as the Times' short documentary was used as the primary piece of evidence against him in his trial.

Many international organizations have called for Mr. Tashi's release, including the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. The United States Embassy in Beijing has also criticized the Chinese Government for its prosecution of the case.

According to Free Tibet, the Chinese Communist Party operates effective control over the nation's judicial system. This, combined with the politically sensitive nature of Mr. Tashi's case, has most likely been a cause in the delay of his verdict. The international attention garnered by the case has also probably contributed to the delay. Mr. Tashi's case will be hard to win: state prosecutors in China enjoy a 99.93% conviction rate. In the event that Mr. Tashi is found guilty, his sentence is expected to come in tandem with the verdict.

Mr. Tashi has become a symbol of linguistic freedom in China. Linguists are invited to join with the LSA in contacting the Chinese Minister of Justice (using an email action from Free Tibet) requesting Mr. Tashi's release. Linguists are also encouraged publicize the case and to contact their nation's embassy in China in support of Mr. Tashi. Linguists working for Chinese language departments sympathetic to Mr. Tashi are urged to explore the option of writing a joint letter to the Chinese government in support of his release. 

Read more about the LSA's continuing efforts to support the human rights to language and science.