■ The case of a Tibetan entrepreneur who was detained after being featured in an article and video by The New York Times has taken an unusual turn, with Chinese prosecutors asking a court for more time to investigate as the judges were weighing a trial.
The prosecutors had sent the case against Tashi Wangchuk, 31, who is accused of inciting separatism, to the Yushu Intermediate Court in Qinghai Province in September. But this month, they asked the court to send the case back to them for further investigation, according to a judge and a defense lawyer.
|Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan entrepreneur and language
education advocate, could face up to 15 years in prison if
convicted of inciting separatism, which he was denied.
Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times
The move is “very rare,” the lawyer, Lin Qilei, said in an interview. Prosecutors expect the additional investigation, which is likely to be carried out by the police, to be finished by Jan. 4, Mr. Lin said.
It is unclear what the development may signal about whether the court will accept the case against Mr. Tashi, a businessman who has advocated Tibetan language education on a personal blog and in interviews with The Times. If the court accepts the case for trial, Mr. Tashi, who has said he is not a separatist, will almost certainly be convicted.
Mr. Tashi has been detained for almost a year, in a case that has attracted intense international attention. On Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, the American ambassador to China, Max Baucus, released a long statement in which he mentioned a number of people being held by China, including Mr. Tashi, who he said was “in jail for his peaceful advocacy of Tibetan language education.”
Other organizations that have raised his case include Amnesty International and PEN America, which noted Mr. Tashi’s detention in a 76-page report in September on China’s attempts to censor foreign reporting.
The international advocacy on behalf of Mr. Tashi may have contributed to the fact that the court has yet to accept the case. The Chinese legal system operates with little transparency and under political imperatives, often from senior Communist Party officials, so it is difficult to discern how decisions are made.
The police from Mr. Tashi’s hometown, Yushu, on the Tibetan Plateau, detained him in January, two months after he was quoted in a Times article on the Tibetan language and was featured in a Times documentary video on the same subject. Mr. Tashi was also quoted in a December 2015 story on a Yushu horse festival.
Mr. Tashi was held in secret for weeks. His relatives were not notified of his detention until March 24, in an apparent violation of Chinese law, which requires that a detainee’s family be told within 24 hours of the start of captivity. The police eventually gave the family a written statement saying Mr. Tashi was being charged with inciting separatism, which can result in a 15-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors, known in China as the procuratorate, then asked the police twice to conduct further investigation. A judge with the Yushu Intermediate Court, who gave only his surname, Cui, said that the prosecutors had asked the court this month to send the case back to them for still more investigation and that the court had done so.
Another lawyer for Mr. Tashi, Liang Xiaojun, said in August that case files showed that the police had investigated Mr. Tashi because of his interviews with The Times. The police were focusing on the Times video documentary that featured him, he said.
In the 2015 interviews, Mr. Tashi said that he did not support Tibetan independence. He said he simply wanted to promote greater Tibetan language education and use of the language in public life, a right that is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution, which provides a framework for autonomy in ethnic regions of China.
Mr. Tashi also praised President Xi Jinping of China for having “promoted a democratic and law-abiding country these last few years.”
Mr. Tashi traveled to Beijing early last year to try to file a lawsuit against Yushu officials, accusing them of suppressing Tibetan language education. He tried to persuade Chinese state news organizations to report on those efforts.
He also came into contact with Times journalists in Beijing in May, and he met with them when they later traveled to Yushu. He repeatedly insisted that all his interviews be on the record and said he understood that they could potentially lead to his imprisonment.
Privately, Tibetans living under Chinese rule often express great concern about language policies that prevent younger Tibetans from becoming fluent in their language. Tibetan teachers and students have held protests over the issue in recent years in Qinghai Province, which has a substantial Tibetan population.
Mr. Tashi ran a shop in central Yushu from which he sold local products both in person and online. In 2014, Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce company, chose Mr. Tashi to be featured in a video for the company’s investor roadshow before a high-profile initial public offering.