Peter Gabriel, Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien (Radiohead), Serj Tankian (System of a Down) and Tjinder Singh (Cornershop) are the first signatures on a petition launched today by Free Tibet calling on China to release eight singers jailed in Tibet for songs celebrating Tibetan culture and calling for freedom.
Lolo, Chakdor, Pema Trinley, Kalsang Yarphel and Shawo Tashi were arrested or sentenced this year. Ugyen Tashi, Achok Phulsung and Choksal were jailed last year. Lolo faces six years in jail, the longest of the sentences. A further two singers – Trinley Tsekar and Gongpo Tenzin – were arrested in November and further information is being sought about their circumstances.
China has occupied Tibet since 1950 and imposes severe punishments on Tibetans convicted of crimes intended to “dismember the State”. The national flag and images of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are prohibited. Tibetans can be punished simply for having “nationalistic” songs on their phones.
The petition signed by the musicians calls on China’s minister of justice to release the eight and says: “Singing songs in your own language about the issues of concern to your own people is not a crime. China claims to protect Tibetan culture but by imprisoning these musicians it is suppressing that culture, as well as violating the human rights of these individuals . . . I urge you to ensure that all artists in Tibet and all Tibetans are free to express themselves without fear of arrest, imprisonment or any other form of punishment.”
The jailed singers (all male) are:
· Lolo, 30: sentenced in 2013 to 6 years after calling for Tibet’s independence, unity of the Tibetan people and the return of the Dalai Lama through songs.
· Shawo Tashi, 40: sentenced in 2013 to five years after taking part in anti-China protests, distributing photos and notes of Tibetan self-immolators, singing national pride songs.
· Pema Tinley, 22: sentenced to two years in 2013 after songs praising the Dalai Lama and Tibetans who have self-immolated in protest against China’s occupation.
· Chakdor, 32: Pema Tinley’s musical partner, sentenced in 2013 to two years after songs praising the Dalai Lama and Tibetans who have self-immolated in protest against China’s occupation
· Kalsang Yarphel, 38: arrested in 2013 after organising concerts and singing political and Tibetan national pride songs. Still in detention, not yet tried or sentenced.
· Ugyen Tashi, 25: arrested February 2012, sentenced to two years after singing songs dedicated to the Dalai Lama.
· Choksal, age unknown: arrested July 2012, sentenced to two years after singing politically-sensitive songs
· Achok Phulsung, 33: arrested 2012, current status unknown.
According to an April 2013 US State Department report, China has implemented “severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing [Tibetans’] civil rights”. Other “serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial killings, torture [and] arbitrary arrests”. Media, international human rights NGOs and UN human rights institutions are banned from Tibet. International think tank Freedom House has given Tibet a “worst-of-the-worst” freedom rating of 7.0 while the chair of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee has described it as “one of the most repressed and closed societies in the world”. More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule since 2011.
Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said: "Music is a vital part of Tibet’s resistance. Singers such as Lolo not only keep alive a culture that China is trying to erase from the world, but their songs articulate the aspirations, fears and courage of a people who remain proud and defiant after 60 years of occupation.
“Last year, the world community responded with justified outrage to the treatment of Pussy Riot but musicians in Tibet have no platform or profile. Their protests consist of singing songs and seeking to have their music heard; their arrests, trials and sentencing take place where no media are permitted to go. China may be able to silence these musicians for now but it cannot silence the voices of people outside Tibet calling for their release.”