Tibetan singers jailed after release of songs about self-immolation, Dalai Lama

  • Two Tibetan singers from Ngaba have been imprisoned for two years each following their release of a music DVD including songs about self-immolations and the Dalai Lama, according to exile Tibetan sources.
  • The prison sentences are consistent with a harsh crackdown against Tibetan artists and writers, which has not prevented more and more Tibetans seeking to express themselves through poetry, blogging, books, painting and song.

Cover photo of the album

Cover photo of the album shows Chakdor (standing in the middle in gold-colored shirt), Pema Trinley (in maroon shirt on right) and musician Khenrap (on left in black shirt). (TCHRD)

Singers Pema Trinley, 22, and Chakdor, 32, from Me’urama nomadic village in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) were first detained in July 2012 days after the release of the album, entitled ‘The Agony of Unhealed Wounds’. News of their sentencing in February has only emerged recently. Their music DVD included songs in praise of the Dalai Lama, exiled head of Kirti monastery Kirti Rinpoche, and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan political leader in exile. The singers’ families have not been able to see them since they were imprisoned, and their current location is unknown.

A musician called Khenrap and lyricist Nyagdompo who worked on the album have disappeared, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD, ‘So many myriad hellish sufferings’: Persecution of Tibetan artists).

The lyrics of the song on the album about the Dalai Lama refer to him as the ‘wish-fulfilling jewel’ “Who sees the three times/Is exiled to the ends of the earth/Can [we] forget it from our hearts?/On the summit of the red mountain/The face of snow lion flag/Is engulfed in the darkness/Does that appear in [your] mind’s eye?” (Translation into English by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, ‘So many myriad hellish sufferings’: Persecution of Tibetan artists).

The songs also included lyrics about the self-immolations in Tibet, with specific references to the first self-immolations in Tibet, Kirti monks Tapey on February 27, 2009 and Phuntsog on March 16, 2011. According to exile Tibetan sources, Chakdor is a close relation of a young Tibetan man called Chopa who died after he self-immolated on August 10, 2012, in Me’urama, Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo). (ICT report, Local Tibetans beaten following three more self-immolations in Tibet).

One of Chakdor’s songs refers to the Chinese government’s exploitation of Tibet’s natural and mineral reserves, with the lyrics “Our precious minerals/Being deceptively destroyed by authorities/Making this sacred land hollow/It is a force against our will”. To view the video with English subtitles see High Peaks Pure Earth.

The lyrics of several of Pema Trinley and Chakdor’s songs have been translated into English by TCHRD and can be viewed at: ‘So many myriad hellish sufferings’: Persecution of Tibetan artists.

Tashi Dhondup, a popular Tibetan singer from Amdo, served 14 months in a labor camp after he issued an album of songs in 2009 called ‘Torture Without Wounds’ containing lyrics that express his pain over the situation in Tibet. (ICT report, Tibetan singer Tashi Dhondup detained and High Peaks, Pure Earth, Tibetan Singer Tashi Dhondup Released From Prison).

Tibetan singers and writers have been at the forefront of a vibrant literary and cultural resurgence in Tibet since protests against government policy and in support of the Dalai Lama swept across the plateau from March, 2008. Expressions of grief and sorrow to the self-immolations have emerged in both music videos, blogs and poetry, indicating both the significance of the actions as statements, and the developing and resolute sense of Tibetan solidarity and unity across Tibetan areas.

Characterised by some Tibetans in exile as a ‘tsampa revolution’ – referring to the Tibetan roasted barley staple as a symbol of Tibetan identity that transcends sect and regionalism – a younger generation of Tibetans is developing new strategies and new modes of expression to counter censorship and political repression. Artists create work that employs Tibetan motifs in unconventional ways; rap and hip-hop songs make metaphorical allusions to the Dalai Lama or the Karmapa in exile, and virtual and real ‘pure language’ communities are created to protect the Tibetan language. (See ICT reports, ‘Storm in the Grasslands’, and ‘A “Raging Storm”: The Crackdown on Tibetan writers and artists after Tibet’s Spring 2008 Protests’).

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