China Film Community Alarmed by Detention of Tibetan Director

  • Pema Tseden hospitalized after scuffle at airport
  • Director detained in Qinghai, home to many Tibetans
  • Charged with disturbing public order


China’s film community is up in arms after award-winning Tibetan director Pema Tseden was hospitalized following a scuffle at an airport in the northwestern province of Qinghai on Monday.

The well-known director was detained on Saturday following a dispute over left luggage at the airport in Xining.

The incident came to wide public attention after the country’s peak body for film directors issued a statement saying the director had “sustained injuries while in custody” and calling on officials to deal with his case fairly.

The director was taken away by police on charges of disturbing the public order on June 25, and was admitted to a local hospital two days later on Monday afternoon, June 27, according to the statement released by the Film Directors Guild of China on Wednesday, which was also reported by local media.

Tseden’s producer Sonam told the Associated Press that the director was ordered held for five days of administrative detention for causing a disturbance and was taken to a hospital Monday night suffering from a headache, chest pain, and other complaints.

The director was placed in detention for five days and will be expected to return to detention for the remaining three and a half days once he recovers, a source close to the director and his colleagues, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told China Film Insider.

According to the source, one of Pema’s colleagues said the director is OK and added that police didn’t seem to know who the director was.

“When I saw him at the hospital, he was fine. He walked into the ward himself without any need for help,” the colleague said.

“The police used excessive force in handcuffing him but he was not beaten. There were marks on his wrists. His shoulders, back and neck was hurt from the way he was handcuffed. There were no other injuries.”

Internet portal Sina published photos of the director’s right hand and forearm with cuts and abrasions on Wednesday afternoon.

The report said Pema had been handcuffed too tightly causing some of the injuries.

Pema, whose Chinese name is Wanma Caidan, is the first director in China ever to film movies entirely in the Tibetan language. He was a member of the jury for the Golden Goblet at the Shanghai Film Festival earlier this month.

Born in 1969 in Amdo, in the Tibetan region of Qinghai Province, Pema’s past films include Old Dog, The Silent Holy Stones, and The Search. The director’s fifth feature film, Tharlo, premiered in Venice last year and recently screened at the Sydney Film Festival in Australia.

The director won the award for Best Screenplay Adaptation at the 52nd Golden Horse film awards in Taiwan last November, for the film which was made for made for little more than US$300,000.

Hong Kong-based sales company Asian Shadows picked up the world rights to Tharlo in September. Asian Shadows’ founder Isabelle Glachant heard the news about the director’s detainment on Wednesday and “are very concerned and worried about his situation,” she told China Film Insider.

“He is an award-winning director, a talented writer and director. He is an artist. He needs to be freed and sent home. He needs to be allowed free movement in his country, China,” Glachant said.

The Film Directors Guild of China statement noted that officials were yet to make a public announcement about the arrest including any details as to why he was arrested.

“This all took place four days ago. Today many in the film industry and wider society are using the internet and social media to express their concern for Pema,” the statement read.

A Statement from Film Directors’ Guild of China on Detention and Assault of Pema Tseden

By Wednesday afternoon, news of the arrest had become a trending topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter, with over 240,000 posts containing the hashtag “Director Detained at Airport” #导演机场遭扣留#

Han Hong (韩红), one of China’s most well-known Tibetan-Chinese singers, was one of those who took to Chinese social media to protest the director’s treatment.

“As a Tibetan I must protest. Pema is my friend. I will not stand idly by,” she posted to Weibo.

Some accounts circulating on Chinese social media suggest the director was arrested after attempting to retrieve his luggage from a secure area in the airport.

The Guild said it was “strongly concerned about the incident” and called on authorities to reveal the reasons and circumstances of the director’s arrest and subsequent treatment.

“We call upon authorities to respond in a timely and considerate manner, and to release all details, including the reasons pertaining to why the police took such forceful measures, whether standard measures were taken, and whether violent or excessive enforcement was used,” the statement read.

The statement also noted that Pema already suffers from “a number of chronic illnesses” which would likely be exacerbated by an mistreatment while in custody.

A photo of the director wearing a blue top with the numbers 001 on the back and being escorted by police circulated on social media on Wednesday.

Other social media posts suggest the director is diabetic and experienced dizziness after being held in a stress position by local police.

The 47 year-old spent a year as a government official after graduating from university before he ended up attending the prestigious Beijing Film Academy to study cinema.