• China's crackdown on Tibetan singers

    Set 16 2013, 7:41 di aquilapositiva

    Tibetan singers and writers have always been at the forefront of a vibrant literary and cultural resurgence in Tibet since protests against government policy and in support of the Dalai Lama in 2008. The crackdown against Tibetan culture is just a part of China’s strategy to stop resistance within Tibet. Over the years, China has arrested many Tibetan singers who have sung songs with explicit and subdued political messages, and metaphorical songs for the Tibetan spiritual leader. The prison sentences are consistent with a harsh crackdown against Tibetan artists and writers, which has not prevented more and more Tibetans seeking to express themselves through poetry, blogging, books, painting and song.

    Below is a list of the singers who are currently under arrest for politically charged songs:

    Shawo Tashi has been sentenced to five years in prison following his arbitrary detention in November 2012 in Dowa Township in Rebkong County, Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Since his arrest, the whereabouts of Tashi remained unknown to family and friends until his sentence in August 2013. The singer was sentenced for “singing patriotic Tibetan songs; distributing photographs of self-immolation protesters; writing last notes left by self-immolation protesters on these photographs and participating in a peaceful protest march against the alarming official apathy towards rising numbers of self-immolations.” Shawo Tashi is known for his great love and respect for Tibetan culture and language. Since childhood, he has deep interest in traditional Tibetan music; he was especially adept at playing mandolin and dranyen. Among the music albums he has released so far, one titled “Faraway Father,” - a reference to the Dalai Lama - became his most popular music DVD.

    Kelsang Yarpel, was detained on 15 July 2013 in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and taken to a detention centre in Chengdu, Sichuan Province where he remains now. In October and November 2012, Kelsang Yarpel and other famous Tibetan musicians and singers organised a concert called "Snow Flower" during which Kelsang Yarpel sang a song titled Bodpa Tso (Tibetans). The Chinese authorities deemed the lyrics to be “politically subversive”. The DVDs made from the songs performed at the Snow Flower concert were distributed widely in Tibetan areas but a month later, the Chinese authorities enforced a ban on the sale and distribution of the DVD, and confiscated many of them. Kelsang Yarpel comes from Machu County in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. He is married and have three children. He has many musical albums to his credit such as “Modern Tibetans,” “Thunder of the Dragon,” “Yearning of the Snow Mountains for the Dawn,” “Dragon’s Thunder Welcomes the Spring,” and “The Homeland of the Gesar of Ling.” He has participated in many musical concerts organised by both government and private organisations. His popularity among the Tibetan public can be gauged by the fact that Tibetans refer to him as the ‘contemporary Tibet's young nightingale’ and as ‘junior Dhubey’, a popular senior Tibetan singer who has faced similar troubles in the past.

    Soktruk Sherab, an actor and singer was detained on 20 September 2012, in Yulgan County of Malho prefecture, Qinghai Province, on charges of allegedly acting and singing for a political purpose. Last couple of years he sang many songs about the difficult situation in Tibet, including way of life in Tibet and the pride of being Tibetan. Similar to his song, the importance of preserving the Tibetan culture, values of traditional lifestyle, language, and customs have been expressed by his acting careers. Soktruk Sherab has acted in many films, including "Yesterday's Tales", a famous film directed and produced by Dodrak in 2008, "Hope Fortune Tellers". a short film on the 2011 direct election of the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and he played the main role of "The Mist", a film directed and produced by Banshul Sonam Bhumkyab, became very popular in Tibet. There is no information about his current place of detention or the condition of his health.

    Amchok Phurchung was arrested on 3 August 2012, in Barkham County, center of Ngba province, Amdo region. Prior to his arrest, Amchok Phurchung was on the run from the police. He fled his home and went into hiding following reports that the armed Chinese authorities were after him for allegedly breaking national unity through his music. He released five albums. They all talked about the Tibet issue, life in Tibet and Tibetan national pride. He was thus always taken in for questioning by police and was warned to stop creating such literature. In 2012 he released his latest album “We Are Pressed Down". In the album he praised the Dalai Lama and Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and highlighting the hardships of life under Beijing’s rule. This was the last straw for the Chinese police, who soon after issued a warrant for his arrest. His family members were never shown the warrant, so they do not know the details of its contents. Amchok Phurchung was born in Amchok Village, Marthang County, Amdo region. He is handicapped with a disabled left hand. He comes from a nomadic family and have six siblings. He is said to have trained himself while grazing yaks and his music is popular amongst the nomads as he expresses their sentiments. Many Tibetans refer to him as "Pride Singer". Samten, one of his friends, described Amchok Phurchung as a very brave individual and very devoted to the Tibetan cause. Further where-abouts and the health condition of the singer remains unclear.

    Choksal was arrested on 29 July 2012, by Chinese police in a cyber cafe in Siling, the capital of Qinghai province. Choksal, a resident of Driru county in the Tibet Automous Region, has been in trouble with authorities before due to the politically-sensitive themes to his songs. His first album titled 'Tibetan Dreams,' contained songs praising the Dalai Lama and speaking with pride of the Tibetan culture. A second album, titled “Brotherly Responsibility” included a song about the Dalai Lama’s presence in India. The Tibetan public liked him because he sang songs about the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, but the Chinese started watching his every move. Chinese security personnel banned him from singing in public and confiscated his albums from Tibetan stores in Lhasa and Driru. Chinese authorities aslo disrupted a DVD screening of Choksal’s fourth album, “Child of Snow,” and fined the owner of the restaurant where the screening was held. Choksal had been preparing to release a new album, “Spirit of Snow,” in cooperation with other Tibetan singers just before he was detained. He has been accused of “inciting separation within nationalities” through his songs. Choksal's family have been unable to get any information of his whereabouts and wellbeing since his arrest.

    Chakdor (standing in the middle in gold-colored shirt), Pema Thinley (in maroon shirt on right) and musician Khenrap (on left in black shirt)

    Pema Thinley and Chakdor, two singers from Meuruma in Ngaba County have been arrested in July 2012 for their album "The Unbearable Pain of an Open Wound" and were detained for six months without trial. In February 2013 they were sentenced to two years imprisonment. Despite confirmed information about their sentencing, it is still unknown where they are imprisoned. Sources said family members of both singers were notified by local authorities through a letter stating that Pema Thinley and Chakdor were being imprisoned at Mianyang Prison in Sichuan Province. However, family members and relatives of the singers travelled to Mianyang at least two times but were turned away by prison officials who claimed that the two singers are not in that prison. Furthermore, two other Tibetans who collaborated with the sentenced singers on the music album have also gone missing. The whereabouts and wellbeing of musician Khenrap and lyricist Nyagdompo remain unknown. The album that led to their detention and imprisonment contains songs about current situation in Tibet including self-immolation protests, as well as songs in praise of the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, Kirti Rinpoche (exiled head of the Kirti monastery) and Lobsang Sangay.

    Lolo has been detained by the Chinese authorities in Yulshul county, Qinghai Province, on April 19, 2012, after he released an album titled “Raise the Flag of Tibet, Sons of the Snow”. He dedicated the album to Tibet, calling for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland, solidarity with those Tibetans who self-immolated for their country and reunification of the Tibetan people. Lolo also dedicated the album to the Tibetans' struggle, called on Tibetans to keep the continuity of our sovereign tribes, loyalty to Tibet and the struggle for independence. His songs were posted online, so Tibetans could hear his message without the risk of possessing the album. Lolo comes from Dhomdha town in Yulshul county and is currently 30 year-old. He had no known links to protests or other activism. On 23 February 2013, Lolo was sentenced to six years in prison. On the same day, Lobsang Jinpa, who wrote the lyrics of most Lolo's songs was sentenced to five years in prison. According to Tibetan sources, Lobsang Jinpa was also tortured.

    Ugyen Tenzin, was detained on February 2012 soon after the release of his album titled, “An Unending Flow of My Heart’s Blood”. Ugyen Tenzin is from Sugma in Nangchen county in Yulshul prefecture. On the album, he had dedicated some songs to the Dalai Lama as well as the third highest ranking Buddhist leader the Karmapa, and Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Ugyen Tenzin also said in the DVD that he is doing this for the religious and political cause of Tibet; he was discussing the Tibet issue and Tibetan identity. In one song on the album, the singer alludes to Tibetan independence and repression: “The unity of the three provinces of Tibet, that is what I have repressed in my heart for 50 years and what I am now going to share through songs, until I breathe my last,” he says. Before the release of the album, other Tibetans were worried about the album’s consequences and advised Ugyen Tenzin against distributing it. People learned from the police sources that he was so severely tortured under detention that his body and faculties are disabled. He was recovering from surgery prior to his detention and the torture made it worse. On March 2012 Ugyen Tenzin was sentenced to two years in prison. None of his relatives or friends are allowed to reach him. The man responsible for distribution of the album was also sentenced to two years in prison, the police is still looking for the lyricist.