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Tibetan singer jailed for songs praising Dalai Lama released after more than four years

Phuljung strumming his guitar which is covered with the words in Tibetan: ‘Freedom’, ‘Equality’, and ‘Rights’. Photo taken at his home after release from prison.

A popular Tibetan singer named Amchok Phuljung was released late yesterday evening after serving more than four years in prison for singing songs in praise of the exiled Tibetan leaders including the Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Marthang (Ch: Hongyuan) County in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, in the Tibetan province of Amdo.

This is the first information on Amchok Phuljung after his arbitrary detention on 3 August 2012 in the prefectural capital of Barkham (Ch: Maerkang) County. The physically challenged singer was held in prolonged incommunicado detention and sentenced in secret on unknown charges. It is reported that he was sentenced to four years but his release date shows that he was imprisoned at Mianyang Prison for exactly four years and five months.

Chinese authorities had informed the singer’s family in advance about his release and warned against welcoming him outside the prison. On his arrival home, Phuljung was greeted by a crowd of local Tibetans at a special banquet thrown in his honour. Pictures and videos circulated on social media show both lay and monastic Tibetans welcoming the singer with khatas (Tibetan ceremonial scarves) and gifts of appreciation. The well-known Tibetan intellectual, Jangtse Donkho (penname: Nyen/“The Wrathful”), who was released in June 2014 after serving four-year sentence for his writings, was also present at the welcoming banquet. In the video, Dhonkho greets Phuljung with a khata, a book and the following lines:

“Tonight is a dark night. But I think it is a great omen because from darkness rises dawn. The natives of snowland have been waiting for the dawn to break. Thank you!”

Phuljung was arbitrarily detained in August 2012 after one of his music DVDs containing songs in praise of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan political leader Lobsang Sangay was released in May that year. In June, following an arrest warrant issued in his name, Phuljung went into hiding for about two months but was eventually captured by the police.

Phuljung is known for his many songs that gave expression to Tibetan sufferings and aspirations and pride in Tibetan culture and identity. Some of his more popular songs are titled, “Our Heavy Responsibility”, “Kind Lama”, “The Heroes”, and “We Have the Support”. “The Heroes” was dedicated to Tibetans who lost their lives in the systematic and widespread crackdown on the 2008 uprising. The “Kind Lama”is dedicated to the Dalai Lama who is referred to as ‘Yeshi Norbu’, the protector of Tibetan people’. In the song, Phuljung asks Tibetans to go and tell their sorrows to the Dalai Lama and the exile Tibetan political leader Lobsang Sangay. “We Have Support” expresses a strong belief in the just and truthful struggle of Tibetans against Chinese repression asserting that there is growing support for Tibetans “from the wise and impartial people”.

Phuljung was one of the many Tibetan singers, artists, poets and intellectuals detained and tortured by Chinese authorities since 2008 as part of a widespread and systematic crackdown to silence and criminalise legitimate dissent and criticism. For instance, in the months preceding Phuljung’s detention in 2012, another singer named Ugyen Tenzin was sentenced to two years, followed by the detention in July of singers Chakdor and Pema Thinley who were later sentenced respectively to four and two years. Another popular singer Lolo was sentenced to six years in prison in the beginning of 2013. Toward the end of 2013, singer Kelsang Yarphel along with music producer and folk singer Pema Rigzin were also sentenced to four years and two years respectively. All of them were detained arbitrarily, held incommunicado for months and sentenced in secret on unknown charges.

 

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