Originally published by FREEMUSE on December 8, 2014.
On 27 November 2014, the Intermediate People’s Court in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, sentenced the well-known folk singer and music producer Pema Rigzin to two and a half years in prison and a fine of 50,000 yuan (US$ 8,130) for composing, releasing, and distributing music with alleged political overtones.
Pema Rigzin, 44, was detained on 7 May 2013 in Chengdu city, and held incommunicado until the 27 November trial.
Though family members were allowed to attend the trial, they were barred by authorities from hiring Rigzin a lawyer, according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
Pema Rigzin began his singing career in 1982 and became famous for songs such as ‘Tears’ and ‘Remembrance Song for Snowland’. In 2008, he cut short his singing career in order to establish a recording studio in Chengdu, where he focused on producing other Tibetan singers’ records and DVDs, including those of Kelsang Yarphel, with whom he was recently sentenced.
The authorities “had threatened him about shutting down his studio” several times, according to Tsering, an exile monk from the restive Kirti monastery in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Kelsang Yarphel, 39, another prominent Tibetan singer, was sentenced alongside Pema Rigzin on 27 November. Accused of unknown charges, he was sentenced to four years in prison and given an immense 200,000 yuan fine.
No legitimate grounds
“We condemn the 27 November sentencing of Pema Rigzin and Kelsang Yarphel. As Rigzin and Yarphel are two artists peacefully exercising their human right to freedom of expression and contributing to the cultural heritage of Tibet, there can be no legitimate grounds for such sentencing and fines,” said Tsering Tsomo, executive director of Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. “We further condemn the arbitrary arrest and long arbitrary detentions to which both artists have been subjected.”
China, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is obliged to refrain in good faith from any act that defeats the object of the Covenant, including violations of Article 19(2), which ensures the right to freedom of expression. TCHRD strongly urges therefore the reversal of the decision of the Intermediate People’s Court in Chengdu, and the immediate release of Pema Rigzin and Kelsang Yarphel.
Among other Tibetan singers in custody are Lolo, Pema Tinley, Chakdor, Shawo Tashi, Ugyen Tenzin, Achok Phulshung, Choksal, Trinley Tsekar and Gonpo Tenzin. All were detained since 2012, with some already tried and sentenced to prison terms as long as six years.