By Tenzin Dharpo
From left to right Tenzin Norbu, Tenzin Dadon, Lhamo Tso, Dhondup Wangchen, Lhamo Dolma, Tashi Tsering in San Francisco on 26 December, 2017. Photo- Filming for Tibet.org
DHARAMSHALA, Dec. 27: Tibetan activist jailed for his documentary film ‘Leaving Fear Behind’, Dhondup Wangchen has escaped Tibet and has reunited with his exiled family on the Christmas day (Dec. 25) in San Francisco, US. “Dhondup Wangchen was able to successfully evade the authorities and flee from his home area in Tibet and then the People’s Republic of China altogether,” an official press release by Filming for Tibet, a Switzerland based NGO stated.
Following his “arduous and risky escape”, Wangchen, 43, beamed with relief and joy of the long due reunion with his wife Lhamo Tso and their four children near the Golden Gate Bridge in the safety of a foreign land. “After many years, this is the first time I’m enjoying the feeling of safety and freedom. I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to hold my wife and children in my arms again. However, I also feel the pain of having left behind my country, Tibet,” he said.
Between 2007 to 2008, Wangchen and his filming assistant Golog Jigme interviewed and filmed 108 Tibetans from various parts of Tibet, discussing the political situation and repressive Chinese rule in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The documentary film ‘Leaving Fear behind’ extracted from over 40 hours of raw footage was later released worldwide by Zurich-based Filming for Tibet and Dhondup Wangchen’s cousin, Gyaljong Tsetrin.
Dhondup Wangchen and Golog Jigme were later detained by Chinese authorities in March 2008 for making the documentary film. In Dec. 2009, after over a year of being held incommunicado, Dhondup Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison for “inciting subversion”. His friend and assistant, Tibetan monk Golok Jigme, suffered detention and torture.
Dhondup Wangchen suffered torture and manual labor during his sentence and contracted Hepatitis B in prison. Even after his release from a prison in Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining on June 5, 2014, Wangchen continued to be heavily watched and put under surveillance by Chinese authorities.
His film has received acclaimed following in capturing the grassroots Tibetan psyche and highlighted the feelings and emotions of Tibetans under Chinese rule. The documentary received international awards including Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award in 2012 and the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in 2014.
Amnesty International protested his and his colleague’s arrest and called Dhondup Wangchen a prisoner of conscience. Besides Tibetans in exile and his wife, international organizations and rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Front Line, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, and the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, among others have been vocal advocates for Wangchen.