As the world celebrated the coming of the Beijing Olympics, Dhondup Wangchen, a self-taught filmmaker, secretly shot a documentary. “Leaving Fear Behind” was cut together from footage smuggled out of China and uncovered life in Tibet under Communist rule. After it aired, Dhondup was detained alongside others as part of the Tibetan Uprising of 2008.
Dhondup was later sentenced to six years in prison for “subversion of state power” and denied the right to an appeal. In prison, he was forced to do manual labour, denied medical treatment after contracting Hepatitis B, and was held in solitary confinement for several months.
Many international human rights groups campaigned for Dhondup’s release, including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and Front Line. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience. In 2012, he was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists. He also received the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.
After his release, Dhondup was placed under heavy surveillance and his communications were closely monitored by Chinese officials. In December 2017, Dhondup fled Tibet for the U.S., where he was granted asylum. Two months later, he testified in front of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
Dhondup continues to serve as a voice for the Tibetan freedom movement. He emphasizes that the international community must never stop fighting for human rights because “Tibetans inside Tibet have not given up their struggle—even if fewer people are listening.”