Tibetan singer secretly sentenced to five years in prison amid major crackdown in Rebkong

Tibetan singer Shawo Tashi sentenced to five years in prison
Tibetan singer Shawo Tashi sentenced to five years in prison

A Tibetan singer has been secretly sentenced to five years in prison following his arbitrary detention in November 2012 in Dowa Township in Rebkong (Ch: Tongren) County in Malho (Ch: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.

Shawo Tashi, 40, was charged with “distributing photographs of self-immolation protesters; writing last notes left by self-immolation protesters on these photographs; participating in protest against Chinese government and singing patriotic Tibetan songs”, according to information received by TCHRD.

Sources with contacts in Rebkong cannot immediately confirm the exact date of sentencing, however, they believe he is now being imprisoned at a prison in Siling (Ch: Xining) city, capital of Qinghai Province.

Shawo Tashi is known for his great love and respect for Tibetan culture and language. Since childhood, he has deep interest in traditional Tibetan music; he was especially adept at playing mandolin and dranyen, a Tibetan lute. Among the music albums he has released so far, one titled “Father in Distant Land” (Tib: Gyang Ring Ghi Phalo) is one the most popular music DVDs. Sources say he had sung many songs celebrating Tibetan identity and culture, and his songs are popular among local Tibetans.

Shawo Tashi has become the latest Tibetan to be arbitrarily detained and sentenced from Dowa (Ch: Duowa) Township since widespread protests against Chinese government broke out in November 2012 in Rebkong County. On 9 November 2012, thousands of Tibetan schoolchildren held a peaceful protest march against the alarming official apathy towards rising numbers of self-immolation protest in Rongwo town in Rebkong. On 8 November 2012, Tibetan schoolchildren in Dowa Township took down Chinese flags from their school building and the Township government office building.

A video grab of Shawo Tashi playing dranyen in one of his music videos
A video grab of Shawo Tashi playing dranyen in one of his music videos

Although crackdowns were not launched immediately on the day of the protests, it has now emerged that widespread detention, arrests and sentencing were carried a week or so after the protests when international attention had waned.

Among those arrested for ‘conspiring with Tibetan self-immolations’ that rocked Rebkong County was Akhu Gyatak, 63, a layman from Dowa Township who was sentenced to four years in prison with two years’ deprivation of political rights on charges of “discussing Tibetan independence” at the home of a Tibetan self-immolator, an act, the court said, amounted “incitement to split the country”. The Malho Intermediate People’s Court passed the sentence on 8 February 2013.

Akhu Gyatak’s sentencing was reported earlier this year by official Chinese media, which spelled his name as Gyadehor and his age was reported as 60. Official Chinese media also reported that Gyatak was sentenced for “inciting secession” after he “spread opinions related to Tibet independence” by bringing money and other goods to console families of self-immolators in November 2012.

According to a news report on the official Qinghai People’s Daily, after a series of self-immolations in Dowa Township, Gyatak, along with other Tibetans, visited the homes of self-immolators to express their solidarity. They carried many items to be offered to the families of the self-immolators. As a result, the families of the self-immolators and the visitors, including Gyatak, were accused of committing acts of ‘splitting the motherland.’ The news report also declared that Gyatak has been sentenced in accordance with the law. The trial was attended by his relatives and other Tibetans totalling around 100 people, according to the propaganda department of the Qinghai Province.

A local eyewitness told TCHRD that on 11 November 2012 provincial and county level Party cadres visited Dowa to investigate the series of protests staged by Tibetans to express solidarity with self-immolation protests. During the investigation, the eyewitness said, Gyatak expressed a defiant attitude against the Chinese officials. As a result, the officials accused him of leading the protests in Dowa. Moreover, he was accused of consoling the families of the Tibetan self-immolators, when all he did was offer butter lamps and donation to the families of the deceased.

Akhu Gyatak is being held in Xining. (Yarphel, an uncle of Dorjee Wangchuk who died of self-immolation protest is now being held in Tongkor Re-education Through Labour camp in the outskirts of Siling after being sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, according to latest information received by TCHRD.)

Sources also informed TCHRD about the detention and sentencing of five Tibetan youths from Rebkong County. Dorjee, a student of Rebkong County Middle School was sentenced to two years’ in prison. Dorjee hails from Kyi-nga Village in Dowa Township. Another Tibetan layman, Lhamo, 20, from the same village as Dorjee was sentenced to two years in prison. Tsundue Choedhen, 19, a monk from Rongwo Monastery was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Tsundue Choeden and Kelsang Sonam, both monks from Rongwo Monastery were detained on 16 November 2012 on charges of inciting their friend Kelsang Jinpa to self-immolate. On 8 November 2012, Kelsang Jinpa died of self-immolation protest at Dowa. There is no information on the whereabouts of monk Kelsang Sonam. Another Tibetan layman Soebum, 18, from Kharkya Village in Dowa Township had been detained since November 2012. An unidentified Tibetan youth, 17, who is a son of Sameytsang family from Dong-gye Village in Dowa had been sentenced to two years’ in prison. Also in Dowa, two Tibetan monks – Dakpa Gyatso from Khar-kya Village and Jigme Tenzin from Gyadu Village – were detained and released after nine months’ in police custody on suspicion that they raised “separatist” slogans during protests in Dowa and had connections with self-immolation protests.

In neighbouring Tsekhog (Ch: Zeku) County in Malho TAP, two Tibetan students – Jamyang Tseten and Dorjee Wangchuk – were sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment for participating in the student protests in November 2012 and for having “separatist” connections. Jamyang Tseten, who hails from Dokarmo Township in Tsekhog County, was arrested sometime in mid-December 2012. On 9 December 2012, Wangchen Kyi, 17, a Tibetan female student died of self-immolation protest in Dokarmo Township.

Phagpa, 27, (in his prison uniform) was sentenced to 13 years in prison early this year
Phagpa, 27, (in his prison uniform) was sentenced to 13 years in prison early this year

TCHRD has received a photograph of Phagpa, 27, a Tibetan layman from Dowa who was sentenced in February this year to 13 years in prison on charges that he incited a Tibetan monk, Dolma Kyab, to self-immolate, according to information released by official Chinese news agency, Xinhua. Click here for  TCHRD’s previous report on Phagpa.

Dorjee Wangchuk is another known Tibetan student who was sentenced to four years’ in prison for being one of the “ringleaders” of the 9 November 2012 student protest in Rebkong. Dorjee Wangchuk was a student of Malho Middle School for Nationalities and hails from Nyinshul Township in Tsekhog County.

Dowa County witnessed self-immolation protests by Tamding Tso, 23; Nyingkar Tashi, 24; Nyingchak Bum, 19 and Lubum Tsering, 18. All of them died. In November 2012 alone, TCHRD confirmed at least 11 self-immolation protests within 20 days in Rebkong County. These burning protests were staged to coincide with the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

Chinese authorities in Qinghai Province have vowed to deepen the campaign to crack down on self-immolation protests. In January 2013, the Qinghai Provincial Public Security Bureau and Provincial Party Committee held a meeting on the implementation of ‘stability maintenance work’ in Tibetan areas in Qinghai Province. The meeting identified the intensification of struggle against self-immolation protests as the number one task for the provincial authorities. The meeting vowed to effectively monitor and crack down on self-immolation and to comprehensively strengthen the prevention and control mechanisms on self-immolation. The provincial law enforcement authorities also decided to punish self-immolation activities strictly and swiftly according to the law, in addition to strengthening the propaganda activities related to self-immolation.

In February this year, official Chinese media reported that the Public Security Bureau (PSB) of Qinghai Province had set up a special committee to crack down on self-immolation protests in Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The deputy director of the Provincial PSB, Mr. Lu Qian heads this committee.

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