China Releases Tibetan Filmmaker From Jail After Six Years

Dalai Lama  - H 2014
Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP

Dhondup Wangchen was jailed for subversion after making a documentary about the political situation in the Himalayan region.

Chinese authorities have released jailed Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen after the documentarian and activist served six years for charges of "subversion" and "inciting separatism," Tibetan rights organizations said on Friday.

Dhondup and his assistant, Jigme Gyatso, were detained in March 2008, after they made Leaving Fear Behind, a documentary featuring Tibetans in the Qinghai province expressing views on the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader; the Olympic Games, which were held in Beijing that year; and Chinese law.

Before his arrest, Dhondup smuggled the footage overseas, and the film has been screened worldwide.

Tibet has been firmly under Beijing's command since the People's Liberation Army marched into the overwhelmingly Buddhist Himalayan region in 1950, when Beijing claims it freed Tibet from what was effectively a theocracy until the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India after a failed uprising in 1959.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of pushing for the separation of Tibet from China, labeling him a dangerous "splittist" who is agitating for independence. The Chinese government says it is bringing prosperity to a traditionally impoverished area.

In July 2009, officials barred lawyer Li Dunyong from representing Wangchen and charged him with "inciting separatism," the International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement.

His jail term included time in solitary confinement from March 2012, but he was later transferred to Qinghai Women's Prison in Xining, where conditions "improved" and relatives were able to visit him.

The ICT welcomed Dhondup's release, with its president, Matteo Mecacci, saying: "He was held six years too long for simply making a film. Freedom of expression is a universal right and must be exercised by all citizens. We are glad Dhondup has now left the prison, and we hope he will soon be able to rejoin his family."

The filmmaker was awarded the International Press Freedom Award in 2012 and was also honored by Amnesty International. The U.S. government raised his case at the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue last year.