Authorities in China’s Sichuan province have sentenced a popular Tibetan comedian to prison on a weapons charge following a confession extracted under torture, according to a Tibetan source in exile.
Athar, 33, was taken into custody in early February by a special police team “and had not been heard from since,” India-based Tibetan exile parliament member Andrug Tseten said, citing sources in the region.
“Then, on April 29, a court in Lithang county sentenced him to three years in prison. The news of his sentence has been relayed to his family,” Tseten said.
The popular performer had been detained ahead of his plan to release a video criticizing Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated regions, which has been a key theme of Tibetan protests—including 35 self-immolations—in recent months.
Heightened tensions in the area have led to a security clampdown and the detention of hundreds of Tibetans, including scores of writers, artists, singers, and educators jailed for asserting Tibetan national and cultural identity.
Describing Athar as a prominent and influential figure in the Lithang area of Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture, Tseten said that Chinese authorities had at first failed to identify an offense for which they could charge him.
“Then they charged him with possession of concealed weapons,” Tseten said.
“Athar denied owning even a single bullet, to say nothing of weapons … but after being beaten severely for not confessing, he finally affixed his fingerprints and was sentenced to three years.”
A U.S.-based friend who had visited Athar in November said Athar had told him he was about to release a DVD that might lead to his arrest.
Athar then gave his friend a short recorded video message, telling him to pass it on if he should hear he had been detained.
In a copy of the video obtained by RFA, Athar warns that Tibet under Chinese rule has gone down “a wrong path,” urges unity among Tibetans, and calls for a strengthened Tibetan national identity and culture.
Reported by Pema Ngodrub for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Benpa Topgyal. Written in English by Richard Finney.