China has sentenced a popular Tibetan singer to four years in prison for calling on Tibetans to unify and speak their language, reports said, highlighting tight cultural controls in the region.
Kalsang Yarphel, 39, was convicted by a court in Sichuan Province after taking part in concerts urging people to speak and learn Tibetan, India-based news Web site Phayul.com reported on Sunday.
“Authorities accuse him of singing songs that have political overtones,” Phayul.com reported, adding that Yarphel’s music arranger, Pema Rinzin, was also sentenced to two years in jail.
Two other Tibetan associates were also sentenced by the same court, but their names and jail terms were not immediately known, the Tibet Times reported.
It was not clear what crime the singer — who blends traditional Tibetan instrumentation with pop influences — was convicted of on Thursday last week.
US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) cited a local source as saying: “He was indicted for organizing Tibetan concerts and singing songs entitled Tibetans, Lama la and other songs carrying political themes.”
Yarphel’s songs included We Should Learn Tibetan and We Should Unite, RFA reported, adding that the musician was detained on July 14 last year.
Yarphel was taken into custody in Lhasa after he helped organize Lhasa-area concerts in 2012 called Khawai Metok, or Snow Flower, in which he sang a song titled Fellow Tibetans, former political prisoner Lhamo Kyab told RFA at the time.
The singer’s call for Tibetans to “build courage” to think about Tibet’s “future path” was deemed subversive by Chinese authorities, RFA added.
Yarphel, a father of three, has been popular since childhood for his singing voice, and had performed at concerts arranged both by the government and by private organizations, Kyab told RFA.
The Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said that Chinese authorities had banned the sale of DVD recordings of the Khawai Metok concerts at which Yarphel performed, but copies had already been widely distributed in Tibetan-populated areas of China’s Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
Beijing tightly controls cultural and religious practices in Tibet, and many Tibetans complain of economic discrimination. Controls have tightened since a wave of deadly riots in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, in 2008.
At least 130 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at Beijing’s rule.
Beijing heavily restricts journalists in Tibetan areas, making reports hard to confirm. Authorities in Sichuan Province could not be reached for comment.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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