Tibetan documentary filmmaker visited Denmark to push for a Winter Olympics boycott 

Standing in front of the Chinese Embassy in Copenhagen, Dhondup Wangchen is holding a sign saying “No Beijing 2022”. His next destination is Sweden.

The Tibetan documentary filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen is traveling through Europe to create awareness about China as the host nation for the Olympic Games and he recently visited Denmark, DR News reports.

Dhondup Wangchen is a system critic who, ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, made a documentary depicting the suffering of Tibetans during the Chinese regime’s preparations for the Games. According to his own statement, he was kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned by the Chinese government for the film, but has since managed to escape the country. 

Now 14 years after the original protest, he is again trying to get his message across. As a Tibetan, ‘he has a responsibility to be loud, he believes. As many as 15 European nations stand as destinations on his journey, which began in November, and meetings with politicians, athletes and diplomats are now part of the daily life of the Tibetan. Meetings he enters with a clear message.

“I would call for a diplomatic boycott. European nations should unite and make a common front against China,” he says to DR News.

“They (China) do not have to be the host at all. In 2008, China was given the opportunity to prove that it respects human rights and individual freedom, but in the months leading up to the Olympics, many people were killed. Also people I know,” he says. 

As a precondition for Beijing’s hosting in 2008, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required that the Chinese government tighten up the country’s respect for human rights. A promise they, according to the documentary filmmaker, failed to live up to.

“I believed in the IOC and that China would improve. But in Tibet, people were still being killed, and I feared that the Tibetan culture would remain eradicated,” he says.

Because even before Beijing was awarded the hosting of the 2008 Games, there was unrest in Tibet and it only got bigger towards the hosting of the Games. More and more peaceful protesters ‘disappeared’ and have since never been found, Dhondup Wangchen says.

“Therefore, it breaks my heart that Beijing is once again allowed to host one Olympics,” he says.

The documentary that cost Dhondup Wangchen his freedom

In the year leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Dhondup Wangchen interviewed 108 Tibetans and recorded his documentary “Leaving Fear Behind” which was critical of Beijing as an Olympics host. Although he knew that it could cause him problems, he felt a responsibility to show how bad it was in his home country, Tibet.

“We had no fear. When we made the film we thought, they can put us in jail or kill us. We felt we had to show that Tibet was becoming eradicated,” he says. 

During Tibet riots in March 2008, he was detained by the Chinese Police for encouraging undermining of the Chinese state power. Just a few days before the Beijing Olympics began on 8 August 2008, his documentary was smuggled out of Tibet and released. 

Dhondup Wangchen was at that time still being detained and according to his own statements, while in detention, he was placed in a dark room where brutal methods were used to get him to confess to his alleged crime.

“When I was kidnapped, I was given a bag over my head, handcuffed, and put in a wooden chair, where I was neither allowed to sleep nor eat for seven days. I lived in constant fear there,” he says.

When he was later jailed based on the same charge, the harsh treatment continued. The Chinese prison was a kind of labor camp, Dhondup Wangchen says.

“We worked 15-16 hours a day and we had to make military clothes for countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. If you did not do it properly, you were punished with electric shock in your mouth or under your arms.”

Despite pressure from several human rights organizations, Dhondup Wangchen remained in captivity for six years. Following his release, he was still being monitored by the Chinese authorities and he explains that it was still much like a prison. 

In 2017 however, with financial help from international human rights organizations, he managed to escape from Tibet to the United States, where he has gained political asylum and is now living in exile with his family.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

View all posts by Gregers Møller

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