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Tibetan Political Prisoner Escapes to California


FILE - Protesters of "Students for a Free Tibet Japan" shout slogans during a demonstration to demand the release of arrested Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who is pictured on the poster, in front of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, Aug. 1, 2009. Wangchen, jailed in China in March 2008, escaped from Tibet and joined his wife and four children in San Francisco on Dec. 25, 2017.

Tibetan activist and filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who had been under Chinese detention for nearly a decade, has escaped from Tibet and joined his wife and four children in San Francisco.

A Swiss nonprofit called Filming for Tibet, which supports the work of Tibetan filmmakers and campaigned for Wangchen's release for several years, said he arrived Monday.

Chinese authorities detained Wangchen, now 43, in March 2008 on charges related to a 25-minute documentary, Leaving Fear Behind. The New York Times described the film as "an unadorned indictment of the Chinese government."

The video includes Tibetans talking about the Dalai Lama, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and human rights in Tibet. It also shows the VOA Tibetan service's live coverage of the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama on Capitol Hill.

Wangchen managed to send his footage out of Tibet, and the film was produced and distributed outside China. Shortly afterward, Wangchen and his assistant, Jigme Gyatso, a senior Tibetan monk, were arrested.

Calls for freedom

International organizations and rights groups such Human Rights Watch, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, Reporters Without Borders and the International Campaign for Tibet campaigned for their freedom.

Amnesty International honored Wangchen for his courage, while the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded him its International Press Freedom Award in 2012. He was also awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in 2014.

Wangchen served out his sentence and was released from prison in 2014, but he was forced to live under harsh restrictions and was barred from leaving Tibet, a relative told Radio Free Asia.

In a note to journalists this week, Filming for Tibet quoted Wangchen as saying he was enjoying "the feeling of safety and freedom" for the first time in years. He expressed gratitude to the people who had helped him rejoin his family, and pain at leaving "my country, Tibet."

A relative, Jamyang Tsultrim, told VOA's Tibetan service Wednesday that Wangchen was resting and going through some medical examinations. During imprisonment, Wangchen contracted hepatitis B.

No details of how Dhondup Wangchen fled are available. The release said only that he “was able to successfully evade the authorities and flee from his home area in Tibet and then the People’s Republic of China altogether.”

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