Authorities in southwestern China’s Sichuan province on Friday freed a Tibetan musician from prison after serving nearly 11 months of a more than two-year sentence for producing banned patriotic Tibetan songs, according to sources.
Producer Pema Rigdzin, 46, was freed from his detention center in the Sichuan capital Chengdu and returned to his home in the province’s Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to great fanfare, said Sonam, a Tibetan living in Europe, citing local sources.
“He was welcomed by his relatives and friends when he arrived back to his home in Ngaba,” Sonam told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“A welcome feast was also hosted at local hall … with several Tibetan singers in attendance.”
It was not immediately clear why Rigdzin was freed before completing his sentence.
Detained on May 6, 2013 and subjected to interrogation for more than a year, Rigdzin was sentenced by the Chengdu Chinese People’s Intermediate Court sentenced to two years and six months in jail and fined 50,000 yuan (U.S $8,130) for producing “politically sensitive” DVDs on Nov. 26, 2014.
Among songs he produced were “In Memory of Tibet” and “Tears,” which have been banned.
Rigdzin, a former monk, stopped singing in 2008 and devoted most of his time to the production of films and songs in a studio in Chengdu.
Sources told RFA last year that the authorities had threatened to shut down his studio several times before he was detained.
Once a monk
Rigdzin had once enrolled in the Namtso monastery in Ngaba but later became a layperson.
He was convicted on the same day that the court in Chengdu sentenced a popular singer, Kalsang Yarphel, 40, to four years in prison for organizing Tibetan concerts and singing songs carrying political themes such as “Tibetans” and “Lama la.”
Other songs he sang included “We Should Learn Tibetan” and “We Should Unite."
China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national and cultural identity and language rights since widespread protests swept Tibetan areas in 2008.
Yarphel was taken into custody in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa on July 14, 2013 after he helped organize Lhasa-area concerts called Khawai Metok, or Snow Flower, in which he sang a song titled “Fellow Tibetans,” former political prisoner Lhamo Kyab told RFA then.
The song, which calls on Tibetans to learn and speak Tibetan and to “build courage” to think about Tibet’s “future path,” was deemed subversive by Chinese authorities, who opened an investigation and questioned Yarphel several times before finally detaining him, he said.
Strong fan base
Popular since childhood for his beautiful singing voice, Yarphel had built up a strong fan base among Tibetans over the years and had distributed many recordings, said Kyab, adding that the singer had performed at concerts arranged both by the government and by private organizations.
The Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) had said that Chinese authorities had banned the sale of DVD recordings of the Khawai Metok concerts at which Yarphel performed.
But copies had already been widely distributed in Tibetan-populated areas of China’s Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces, TCHRD said.
Among other Tibetan singers in custody are Lolo, Pema Tinley, Chakdor, Shawo Tashi, Ugyen Tenzin, Achok Phulshung, Choksal, Trinley Tsekar and Gonpo Tenzin. All were detained since 2012, with some already tried and sentenced to jail terms as long as six years.
One song by jailed singer Lolo, “Raise the Tibetan flag, Children of the Snowland,” was seen as a direct challenge to Chinese rule.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 143 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Sonam Wangdu for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.