As China steps efforts to silence dissent in Tibetan regions and stop the spread of self-immolation protests, activists overseas are trying to draw international attention to the Tibetans' cause. Lhamo Tso, the wife of an imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen is one of those speaking out.
Dhondup Wangchen’s troubles began four years ago while producing a film about Tibetan concerns about life in China. Chinese authorities saw the documentary as a threat to Chinese rule.
Wangchen shot Leaving Fear Behind in the run up to the Beijing Olympics and was later sentenced to six years in prison.
Lhamo Tso has been trying to raise international awareness of her husband’s case for several years. She spoke recent at rally in New York and expressed fears to VOA about her husband’s health.
“It’s been five years since I’ve seen him. I’ve not heard his voice since March 17, 2008,” she said.
Before Wangchen began filming Leaving Fear Behind, Lhamo Tso fled with their four children to India. Wangchen got his film footage out of China, but was detained shortly afterwards.
“In some respects, we might have expected a longer sentence. He didn’t do anything wrong. What he did was utterly peaceful, utterly reasonable, utterly consistent with exercising his right under the Chinese constitution to freedom of expression, but in China freedom of expression is not freedom of expression or freedom of speech," said Steven Marshall, a Tibet specialist at the Congressional Executive Commission on China.
Tso says her husband's imprisonment wears heavily on her, but she believes speaking out about it is helping him.
“His workload now has been reduced as a result of the intense campaign effort for his release and support from overseas. The more campaigning we can do for a prisoner, the more they will benefit, particularly when the campaign focuses on a specific individual and case,” she said.
China sees itself as a liberator of the Tibetan people and argues that it has brought development, commerce and much needed infrastructure to the region. But prior to the Beijing Olympics, protests began spreading across the Tibetan plateau. And Marshall says that led to at least 1,200 arrests. “We are assuming that a lot of these people have been released. These numbers, however, the 1,200 for example, I would be stunned if that number was even half of the total number,” he said.
Under Chinese law, Wangchen is now eligible for medical parole. And that's something his family hopes will happen soon.