Authorities in China’s Sichuan province have released a popular Tibetan comedian from jail in poor health before the end of his three-year sentence following a conviction on a politically-contrived weapons charge, according to Tibetan sources.
Athar, 35, was taken into custody in February 2012 in Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture’s Lithang county ahead of his plan to release a video criticizing Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated regions, sources said.
“After he was detained, his family members heard only that he had been sentenced to three years in jail, and they didn’t see or hear anything from him after that,” a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Friday.
“He was released on April 12 and returned to his home,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Though Athar’s body bore no visible signs of injury when he was released, “his family members are worried about his health,” the source said, adding, “His health is not good compared to his condition when he was detained in 2012.”
“Right now, many friends, relatives, and supporters are visiting him at his home in Lithang.”
Athar was released after spending only two years and three months of his three-year term in jail, Andrug Tseten, an India-based Tibetan exile parliamentarian, told RFA.
“But by the time of his release, his health condition had really deteriorated,” Tseten said, citing sources in his native Lithang.
“The local Tibetans welcomed him warmly when he returned to his hometown, but the Chinese authorities are restricting the number of Tibetans who can come to see him at his home,” he said.
Athar, who had run a general store aside from giving satirical performances in Lithang, was taken into custody at night in early February 2012 by a special police team acting on orders “from the top,” sources said at the time he was detained.
Chinese authorities had at first failed to find an offense for which they could charge him, but then accused him of possessing concealed weapons, Andrug Tseten told RFA in an earlier report.
“After being severely beaten for not confessing, he finally affixed his fingerprints and was sentenced to three years,” Tseten said.
A U.S.-based friend who had visited Athar in November 2011 said that 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.
“Now, all the political rights of Athar have been taken away, and he has been told to remain under official supervision for one year and three months,” a local source told RFA on Friday.
“During this period, he has to report to the local authorities once a week,” he said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the area in 2008.
A total of 131 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.