A popular Tibetan singer has been ordered jailed for four years for belting out songs calling on Tibetans to speak their own language and to forge unity among themselves as Chinese authorities pursue a crackdown on public assertions of Tibetan national and cultural identity.
Kalsang Yarphel, 39, was sentenced on Thursday by a court in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where he had been held since being detained in June last year in Tibet's capital Lhasa, sources said.
"He was indicted for organizing Tibetan concerts and singing songs entitled 'Tibetans,' 'Lama la' and other songs carrying political themes," a Tibetan source with contacts in the region told RFA's Tibetan Service.
"Other songs he sang were ‘We Should Learn Tibetan' and 'We Should Unite'"
Pema Rinzin, the producer of his songs, and two other Tibetan associates were also sentenced by the same court but the names of the associates and the jail terms of the three were not immediately known, the Tibet Times reported.
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.
Snow Flower concerts
Yarphel, a father of three and who is from Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county in Gansu province, was taken into custody in 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.
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.
Alarmed by a surge in the jailings of Tibetan singers who promote Tibetan culture, the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet launched a petition about a year ago urging China to free all Tibetan performers in custody.
The petition, addressed to China’s justice minister, won support from popular singers and musicians in the West.
Among 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.
Some 133 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 in protests opposing Beijing’s rule and calling for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Lhuboom for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.