09/12/2019

Tibetan singer sentenced to prison after prolonged secret detention

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Gonpo Tenzin before detention (left) and wearing a surgical mask in a hospital.
Gonpo Tenzin before detention (left) and wearing a surgical mask in a hospital.

A well-known Tibetan singer was recently sentenced to prison after almost a year and a half of secret detention in Diru (Ch: Biru) County in Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, in the Tibetan province of Kham.

Gonpo Tenzin, about 27, was sentenced on 15 April 2015 to three years and six months in prison, in addition to deprivation of political rights for four years, according to information received by Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).

TCHRD earlier reported on the arbitrary detention of the singer on 30 November 2013 in Lhasa. The singer’s sentencing last month highlights the arbitrary nature of his prolonged detention in secret. According to a source, the singer had to undergo severe interrogations, beatings and torture for over a year and a half in secret detention.

Family and friends of the singer are concerned about his health since he was last seen visiting a hospital accompanied by police officers. At the hospital, he was seen wearing a surgical mask raising fears that he was probably suffering from tuberculosis or other infectious diseases. One of the onlookers at the hospital secretly took a photo of the singer wearing the surgical mask.

There is no confirmed information on the exact charges used to sentence him. However, local Tibetans suspect that he might have been arrested in connection with his songs that contained lyrics calling for the promotion and propagation of Tibetan culture, literature and language. Gonpo Tenzin had distributed a number of DVDs of his songs among local Tibetans.

The year he was detained, Gonpo Tenzin had released a special album titled “No Losar for Tibet”, the title song of which became hugely popular among Tibetans. With the growing repression and relentless self-immolations in Tibet, the title song “No Losar for Tibet” touched a chord among many Tibetans who felt that celebrating Losar (Tibetan New Year) would be inappropriate given the situation inside Tibet. Gonpo Tenzin’s popularity increased after the song became a major hit. Gonpo Tenzin hails from Septha Village in Shagchu (Ch: Xiaqu) Town, Diru County.

Diru County has become a prime target for government repression due to sustained protests and other forms of defiance and resistance initiated by local Tibetans. An unknown number of Tibetans are being detained or arrested on trumped up charges of ‘maintaining contacts with separatist forces living abroad’. Two Tibetans identified as Trewo Dharsang and Khenrab were recently detained along with others whose identities remain unknown. Local authorities are particularly targeting Tibetans on special occasions such as Lhakar (literally ‘white Wednesday’ or the soul day of the Dalai Lama) when Tibetans purposely wear and eat Tibetan, or during the holy Saka Dawa month – which usually falls between late May and early June – when Tibetan Buddhists give up eating meat as part of their religious practice.