By Alexa Olesen
BEIJING, China — A Tibetan author detained for his recent book that calls for nonviolent resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet is stuck in legal limbo, his lawyer said Friday, with police reinvestigating his case and the court having rejected his chosen legal team.
Tagyal or 'Shogdung' (Photo: Phayul/file)
Four months after being taken into custody, the writer Tragyal remains in jail in the far western city of Xining, charged with inciting separatism. He was expected to face trial this month, but police recently told his family they were reviewing the evidence against him before sending the case to prosecutors, his lawyer said.
Tragyal's wife, a friend and lawyer all say Tragyal was being unfairly punished and the book, while critical, never advocates violence or Tibetan independence from China.
"It seems that soon Tragyal will undergo a legal trial. But what they called 'law' is actually an object designed for their own private use," Tragyal's wife, Lhatso, said in an open letter seen by The Associated Press. "It can bang the head of anyone they wish to hurt."
Tragyal, who like many Tibetans uses one name, knew when he published "The Line Between Heaven and Earth" earlier this year he was courting trouble and expected to be arrested. The emotional 250-page book advocates civil disobedience by Tibetans to gain greater rights and freedoms, and condemns the oppressive tactics used by the authoritarian Chinese government in its more than half-century rule over Tibet.
The sentiments were a turnabout for Tragyal. The 47-year-old writer was for many years considered an "official intellectual." The Xining-based writer often supported the ruling Communist Party's views and was at times critical of some Tibetan Buddhist beliefs.
Wang Lingjun, the vice governor of Qinghai province, where Xining is located, told a press briefing Friday the case would be "handled according to law." Officials reached by phone at the Xining Public Security Bureau and Intermediate Court refused to comment.
Tragyal's arrest comes amid the prosecution of several other prominent Tibetans once known for having close ties to the government and for carefully eschewing politics. Their detention has been seen as a hardening of the government's attitude in handling Tibetan affairs.
For Tragyal and for the government, deadly riots that engulfed Lhasa and an anti-government uprising that swept many Tibetan communities in 2008 proved a turning point. To quell the unrest, Beijing poured security forces into Tibetan areas and has kept them there since, giving the western China region the feel of a military garrison and further alienating many Tibetans.
The riots astounded Tragyal, making him realize how out of touch he had been with other Tibetans and their hopes for freedom and democracy. "Tibetans cursed me as a heretic and a heathen and cast me out of their ranks so it was rare for me to meet people who would share their true sentiments," he wrote in the book, which describes his soul-searching and frustration over the plight of Tibetans.
In her letter, Tragyal's wife said she and other family members have not been allowed to visit or communicate with her husband since he was detained in April. She is concerned about his health and how he is being treated.
His attorney said police in Xining rejected his and his law partner's application to represent Tragyal, returning the paperwork to Tragyal's daughter without explanation on Aug. 2, the same day it was submitted. The prominent defence lawyer asked not to be identified by name because he hopes authorities will change their mind as the application would be resubmitted soon.
Tragyal's friend, Phagmo Tashi, said he is hopeful the apparent delay in the trial means Tragyal could end up facing lesser charges.
"Of course I am afraid he could face a heavy sentence, but then again I also think that there is no way that they could find him guilty, because he's broken no laws," Phagmo said.
Tragyal wrote he was reconciled to being punished. "I am naturally terrified at the thought that once this essay has been made public ... I may 'lose my head because of my mouth,'" he said. "But this is the path I have chosen, so the responsibility is mine."