China: Tibetan singer released from prison
11 Feb 11

Tibetan singer Tashi Dhondup, who was sentenced to 15 months hard labour in January 2010 for recording political songs, has been released a few months early, according to Radio Free Asia.

RFA’s source, who was not named but who is cited as a close relative, added that locals and friends came out to welcome him home. There was no police interference. In other parts of China, police often prevent any kind of public welcome for newly-released dissidents, often keeping them under house arrest or in further secret detention for a time. (See the curious case of Hada).

The radio station said a document smuggled out of China last year claimed the 30-year-old had “violated laws” by singing songs about Tibetan independence and their exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. Two of his songs were singled out, Torture without Trace and 58. The latter referenced a failed 1958-59 uprising against Chinese rule which sparked the Tibetan exodus to India.

Thousands of C’s of his controversial songs spread through markets in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai province which may have prompted Dhondup’s arrest, media said at the time.

Index on Censorship magazine recently published an article by Beijing-based Tibetan dissident writer Woeser headlined Tradition in Protest. She quotes from 58:

The year of 1958
Is when the black enemy entered Tibet
Is when the lamas were put in prison
That time was terrifying …
The year of 2008
Is when innocent Tibetans were beaten
Is when people of the world were massacred
That time was terrifying.

Woeser describes the young singer. “Someone sent me a photo of Dhondup. Round-faced, with long narrow eyes, he appeared fashionable, dressed in black hunting gear with lightened hair.” A poet friend of hers later revealed he was a relative of Dhondup’s. “The Dhondup he spoke of was a wayward youth who liked to get drunk, sing, and chase grassland girls”, but “He’s a hero now. When I ask at roadside stalls in Xining [capital of Qinghai province] if they’ve got his songs they make sure I’m not police or undercover, then pull out a big bag full of his recordings. They’re all copies of course.”

Dechen Pemba, a London-based Tibetan activist blogger said she welcomed the news of his release. “People all over the world have come to know of his thoughts, feelings, musical talent and great courage,” she told Uncut. “We hope he will be able to recover from his experiences in prison and return to making music.”

High Peaks Pure Earth has posted some of his English-subtitled music videos here.