Tibetan Protest Singer Freed After Serving More Than Three Years in Prison

2018-08-03
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Tibetan singer Gonpo Tenzin is greeted by supporters following his release from prison, Aug. 2, 2018.
Tibetan singer Gonpo Tenzin is greeted by supporters following his release from prison, Aug. 2, 2018.
Photo sent by an RFA listener

Chinese authorities have released a popular Tibetan singer jailed for over three years for singing songs describing the plight of Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule, Tibetan sources say.

Gonpo Tenzin, 32 and a native of Shachu village in the Septra township of Tibet’s Driru county, was freed on Aug. 2 after serving his full three-and-a-half year term, a source in the region told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Friday.

“Details of his physical health and information on where he was being held are not available yet,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He was sentenced by a Chinese court on April 15, 2015 to three years and six months in prison, and he served his full term,” the source said.

In a photo obtained by RFA, Tenzin, wearing traditional Tibetan dress, is shown being greeted by a group of Tibetans at an unknown location following his release.

Already on a police wanted list, Tenzin was detained by police on Nov. 30,  2013 in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa after “evading detention by hiding in different places in the city,” one source told RFA in an earlier report.

Another Tibetan singer, Trinley Tsekar, had been detained ten days earlier, sources said.

'Inciting separatism'

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Lhasa confirmed Tenzin’s release, saying he had been freed not on Aug. 2 but the day before.

“When his relatives and friends came to receive him in front of the Chinese prison, the authorities wouldn’t hand him over,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“Instead they took him to his home,” he said.

“Local Chinese authorities had accused him of singing reactionary songs and for taking part in protests against mining. He was charged with inciting separatism,” he said.

Popular with Tibetans

Popular especially with young Tibetans, Tenzin’s recordings had focused mainly on themes involving Tibetan unity and the promotion of the Tibetan language, sources said.

But a song titled “How Can We Have New Year’s Celebrations in Tibet?” was described by sources at the time as having been the main reason for his arrest.

“[The song] touched a chord among many Tibetans who felt that celebrating Losar (Tibetan New Year) would be inappropriate given the situation inside Tibet,” the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a December 2013 statement.

“Gonpo Tenzin’s popularity increased after the song became a major hit,” the rights group said.

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.

Reported by Lhuboom and Dawa Dolma for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney

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