International rights groups welcomed the release June 5 of Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen, who was imprisoned in China in 2008 for producing the documentary Leaving Fear Behind, which depicted conditions faced by Tibetans under Chinese rule. Wangchen was released from prison in Qinghai's provincial capital, Xining, but faces an unspecified term of deprivation of political rights, according to Wangpo Tethong, a member of the Switzerland-based Tibetan film company Filming for Tibet who spoke to the New York-based Committee to Protect Jouranlists, which has rigorously campaigned for his release. "We are relieved that Dhondup Wangchen has been released, but Chinese authorities will never be able to return the six years they've already taken from him," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "China should seek to end its stigma as one of the world's leading jailers of the press by releasing the many journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work."
In 2012, CPJ honored Wangchen with an International Press Freedom Award, an annual recognition of courageous reporting. The following month, CPJ sent a petition with almost 15,000 signatures to the Chinese government, calling for his release. In January 2013, Wangchen was moved to a women's prison, where conditions are not as harsh, after years of living in a labor camp in eastern Tibet, where his health had deteriorated.
An emotional Dhondup Wangchen said in a phone conversation with a cousin exiled in Switzerland: "At this moment, I feel that everything inside me is in a sea of tears. I hope to recover my health soon. I would like to express my feeling of deepest gratitude for all the support I received while in prison and I want to be reunited with my family."
Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2009 for secretly shooting his documentary film that shed light on the lives of Tibetans in China in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Wangchen, accompanied by his monk assistant Jigme who recently escaped to India, traveled to remote corners in the eastern region of Amdo and across the Tibetan plateau from October 2007 to March 2008 filming over 35 hours of interviews. The tapes were smuggled out in March 2008 to Switzerland, where Wangchen's cousin Gyaljong Tsetrin edited them into a 25-minute film. The film has been screened in various parts of the world in twenty five different languages. (CPJ, Phayul, June 5)