BEIJING, China – Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who made a 2008 documentary about Tibetan nomads expressing discontent over China’s rule, has been released from a Chinese prison after serving a 6-year sentence for separatism, his production company said.
Wangchen, 40, was freed Thursday in the western city of Xining, capital of Qinghai province, Switzerland-based Filming for Tibet said in a statement on its website. It said he was then driven by police to his sister’s home about two hours away.
Wangchen was arrested in March 2008 and sentenced to six years in prison in late 2009 on charges of trying to split the country.
That followed his work on the 20-minute documentary “Leaving Fear Behind,” a collection of interviews with Tibetan nomads expressing disgruntlement about Chinese rule in Tibet, just ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Anti-government riots had broken out across Tibetan regions shortly before the Beijing games, leading to harsh punishments and a tightening of restrictions on dissent.
Officers answering phones at the Qinghai Provincial Women’s Prison, where Wangchen served out the last 17 months of his sentence, hung up Friday on a researcher attempting to confirm Wangchen’s release.
The statement quoted Wangchen as telling his cousin in Switzerland in a phone call that he looked forward to recovering his health and reuniting with his wife and children, who live in the United States. He also thanked those who supported him while he was locked away.
“At this moment, I feel that everything inside me is in a sea of tears,” Wangchen was quoted as telling Gyaljong Tsetrin, who is also president of Filming For Tibet.
Wangchen’s wife, Lhamo Tso, who was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2012, was quoted as saying: “Six years of injustice and painful counting the days ended today.
Wangchen spent the bulk of his sentence in a labour camp, partly in solitary confinement. His release follows the escape of an assistant on the film, Golog Jigme, 44, over high mountain passes to India after several terms in detention during which he says he was badly beaten.
China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory for centuries, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that Beijing wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their Buddhist cultural identity.