NEW YORK — The case of a Tibetan entrepreneur who was detained after being featured in an article and video by The New York Times has taken an unusual turn, with Chinese prosecutors asking a court for more time to investigate as the judges were weighing a trial.
The prosecutors had sent the case against Tashi Wangchuk, who is accused of inciting separatism, to the Yushu Intermediate Court in Qinghai province in September. But this month, they asked the court to send the case back to them for further investigation, according to a judge and a defense lawyer.
The move is “very rare,” the lawyer, Lin Qilei, said in an interview. Prosecutors expect the additional investigation, which is likely to be carried out by police, to be finished by Jan. 4, Lin said.
It is unclear what the development may signal about whether the court will accept the case against Tashi, a businessman who has advocated Tibetan language education in a blog and in interviews with The Times. If the court accepts the case for trial, Tashi, who has said he is not a separatist, will almost certainly be convicted.
Tashi has been detained for almost a year, in a case that has attracted intense international attention. On Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, the US ambassador to China, Max Baucus, released a long statement in which he mentioned a number of people being held by China, including Tashi, who he said was “in jail for his peaceful advocacy of Tibetan language education.”
Other groups that have raised his case include Amnesty International and PEN America, which noted Tashi’s detention in a 76-page report in September on China’s attempts to censor foreign reporting.
The international advocacy on behalf of Tashi may have contributed to the fact that the court has yet to accept the case. The Chinese legal system operates with little transparency and under political imperatives, often from senior Communist Party officials, so it is difficult to discern how decisions are made.
The police from Tashi’s hometown, Yushu, on the Tibetan Plateau, detained him in January, two months after he was quoted in a Times article on the Tibetan language and was featured in a Times video on the same subject.
Tashi was held in secret for weeks. His relatives were not notified of his detention until March 24. Police eventually gave the family a written statement saying Tashi was being charged with inciting separatism, which can result in a 15-year prison sentence.