Popular Tibetan Performer Detained for 'Political' Song

Tibetan singer Kalsang Yarphel in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Lhamo Kyab.

Chinese security officials have detained a popular Tibetan musician and singer for performing a song calling on Tibetans to ‘unite’ and to learn and speak their own language, as China continues to crack down on public assertions of Tibetan national and cultural identity.

Kalsang Yarphel, 38, was taken into custody in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa on July 14 and was flown under guard to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, former political prisoner Lhamo Kyab told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Wednesday.

“He is now being held there in detention,” said Kyab, a former resident of Yarphel’s native Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county in Gansu province, citing contacts in the region.

In October and November last year, Yarphel had helped to organize Lhasa-area concerts called Khawai Metok, or Snow Flower, in which he sang a song titled “Fellow Tibetans,” Kyab said.

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 last month, 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.

Yarphel, who comes from Gansu province’s Machu county, is married with three children—two boys and a girl. His wife’s name is Tenzin Palmo, and his father’s name is Gonpo Tseten and mother’s name is Makho.

Recordings banned

Separately, the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) confirmed Kalsang Yarphel’s detention, saying that Chinese authorities have now banned the sale of DVD recordings of the Khawai Metok concerts at which Yarphel performed.

Copies had already been widely distributed in Tibetan-populated areas of China’s Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces, TCHRD said in a press release on Friday.

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.

In June, two Tibetan singers detained for nearly a year for distributing politically sensitive songs were handed two-year jail terms following a secret court hearing, according to Tibetan sources.

Pema Trinlay, 22, and Chakdor, 32, both natives of a nomadic settlement in Sichuan, were taken into custody in July 2012 in Machu county in Gansu, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service in an earlier report.

They were detained “because of their release of a DVD that contained songs praising self-immolation protesters and [exiled spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama,” Dharamsala-based monk Kanyak Tsering said, citing sources in the region.

A total of 121 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze to date in protests challenging Beijing’s policies and rule in Tibetan areas.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tseten Namgyal. Written in English by Richard Finney.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.