BEIJING — An activist promoting the Tibetan language stood trial Thursday in western China for inciting separatism after he appeared in a documentary video produced by The New York Times, highlighting the risks that Chinese citizens often face when speaking to foreign media.
Tashi Wangchuk's lawyer Liang Xiaojun told The Associated Press that a judge in Qinghai province heard oral arguments for four hours and will issue a verdict at an unspecified date.
Tashi has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face a lengthy prison term.
Liang says prosecutors presented evidence focused on a nine-minute video the Times made in 2015 that told of how Tashi tried to sue local officials for denying Tibetans language and culture education. The Times' website is blocked in China.
Tashi was detained in January 2016, two months after The Times published its video and accompanying article. Liang said Tashi, who has been in jail for two years while awaiting trial, was treated well in detention and in good mental condition.
Liang added that he was given ample time to present his defense, which hinged on the argument that appearing in the documentary did not amount to separatist activity.
"The prosecutors are ideologically too strong," said Liang. "Their main evidence was this video — just 9 minutes and 13 seconds."
In the documentary, Tashi speaks extensively in Mandarin about the "pressure and fear" felt by Tibetans and his worry that their culture is being wiped out through the steady erosion of their language.
He is shown seeking redress through official channels as he travels to Beijing, where he tries, unsuccessfully, to file a lawsuit against local officials and convince journalists at China's powerful state broadcaster, CCTV, to cover his case. Minority rights are protected under China's constitution, as is the right to sue government officials, he says in the video.
"All Tashi Wangchuk has done is peacefully advocate for constitutionally guaranteed rights," said Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson. "If Chinese authorities consider that 'inciting separatism,' it's hard to tell what isn't."
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