Tibetan Musician Who Produced Songs For Popular Singer is Jailed

2014-12-01
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A Tibetan music concert on the sidelines of the Kalachakra Buddhist festival in India in January 2012.
A Tibetan music concert on the sidelines of the Kalachakra Buddhist festival in India in January 2012.
RFA

A Tibetan musician has been ordered jailed for more than two years for producing patriotic Tibetan songs that have been banned by the Chinese authorities, according to sources, amid a crackdown by Beijing on Tibetan cultural figures.

Producer Pema Rigdzin, 44, was sentenced by the same court that ordered his popular singer, Kalsang Yarphel, 39, jailed for four years in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, last week, the sources said.

Rigdzin, who turned producer after a successful singing career, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail and fined 50,000 yuan (U.S $8,130) by the Chengdu Chinese People’s Intermediate Court for producing “politically sensitive” DVDs, India’s Dharamsala-based monk Kanyak Tsering told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Among songs he produced were “In Memory of Tibet” and “Tears,” which have been banned.

“Some of Rigdzin’s supporters were allowed to witness the proceedings in court but he was not allowed to have an attorney for his defense,” Tsering said.

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.

The authorities “had threatened him about shutting down his studio” several times, according to Tsering, an exile monk from the restive Kirti monastery in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Once a monk

Rigdzinhad once enrolled in the Namtso monastery in Ngaba but later became a layperson.

He was convicted by the Chengdu court on Nov. 27 when Yarphel, 39, was sentenced for organizing Tibetan concerts and singing songs carrying political themes such as 'Tibetans' and 'Lama la,' a Tibetan source with contacts in the region told RFA at the weekend.

"Other songs he sang were ‘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.

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 RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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