Alarmed by a surge in jailings of Tibetan singers who promote Tibetan culture, a London-based advocacy group announced on Monday the launch of a petition urging China to free eight performers taken into custody over the last two years.
The petition, addressed to China’s justice minister Wu Aiying, is already gathering support, including signatures from popular singers and musicians in the West, Free Tibet spokesman Alistair Currie told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“The petition has already been supported by a number of world-famous musicians including Peter Gabriel and two members of Radiohead and others,” Currie said.
Gabriel is an English singer, musician, songwriter, and activist who rose to fame as the lead vocalist and flautist of the progressive rock band Genesis while Radiohead is an English rock band.
“We hope to get signatures from people of all kinds all over the world, and we’ll certainly be looking for signatures from musicians from all over the world in the coming days,” Currie said.
“We’ll make a decision later in the year about when would be the most effective time to hand it in,” he said.
Named in the petition are Tibetan singers Lolo, Kalsang Yarphel, Pema Tinley, Chakdor, Shawo Tashi, Ugyen Tenzin, Achok Phulshung, and Choksal. All were detained since 2012, with some already tried and sentenced to jail terms as long as six years.
“Since we put the petition together, a further two singers have been arrested in November—Trinley Tsekar and Gonpo Tenzin,” Currie said, adding, “We will certainly add their names to the petition and to our campaign if they’re not released very shortly.”
Tsekar, 22, and Tenzin, 25, were taken into custody on Nov. 20 and Nov. 30, respectively, with no word left by authorities for the men’s parents, wives, and children living in Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county in the Nagchu (Naqu) prefecture of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, sources told RFA.
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.
One song by jailed singer Lolo, “Raise the Tibetan flag, Children of the Snowland,” was likely seen as a direct challenge to Chinese rule, Free Tibet said in a statement announcing the launch of its petition Monday.
“Music is a vital part of Tibet’s resistance,” Currie told RFA.
“Singers such as Lolo and the other singers who’ve been arrested not only keep alive a culture that China is trying to erase from the world, but their songs articulate the aspirations and fears and courage of a people who remain proud and defiant after 60 years of occupation.”
And while the arrests of performers who protest in other parts of the world are more quickly publicized, “musicians in Tibet don’t have the same kind of platform or profile,” Currie said.
“Their arrests and their trials and their sentencing take place where the Western media aren’t allowed to go.”
Reported by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.