Tibetan Filmmaker Hospitalized After Detention by Chinese Police

Pema Tseden

The Film Directors Guild of China issued a statement Wednesday calling on police to make the case public and investigate whether excessive violence was used.

Acclaimed Tibetan director Pema Tseden suffered serious injury and had to be hospitalized while in the custody of the Chinese police, the Film Directors Guild of China said Wednesday

Tseden was detained in Northwestern China earlier this week. According to Chinese authorities, the director got into a dispute with security guards at an airport in Xining while attempting to retrieve his luggage. He was badly hurt in the course of his detention, and later "displayed health problems” that caused him to be hospitalized, the directors guild said in a statement issued over Chinese social media.

A festival circuit regular, Tseden served on the jury of the Shanghai International Film Festival earlier this month alongside British actor Ian Mckellen. Tseden is known for lyrical films such as Tharlo, The Sacred Arrow and Old Dog, which strive to depict the realities of contemporary Tibetan life but are not overtly political or overtly critical of the Chinese government. He was the first Tibetan director to graduate from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, and is the first filmmaker in greater China to make films entirely in the Tibetan language.

Xining police said in a statement that Tseden got into the dispute upon re-entering the airport luggage hall after forgetting an item. Police say he refused to cooperate and was detained and that his only injuries were three cuts on his wrists from handcuffs digging into his skin. Tseden was ordered to serve five days of administrative detention on the charge of disturbing public order. But on Monday, after experiencing headaches, chest pain and high blood sugar, he was briefly hospitalized.

"We call on the related departments to quickly respond to society’s concerns and make the whole case public, including the reason for the enforcement methods used by the police and whether their procedures were within the rules, whether there are questions of the use of violence or excessive enforcement," the directors guild's statement said.

Police brutality is a regular occurrence in China. News of Tseden's detainment and injuries swept through Chinese social media Wednesday, with many speculating that the authorities probably hadn't recognized the director and now regretted the episode.