Since 2012, China has jailed eleven Tibetan singers after they wrote and performed songs celebrating Tibet, opposing China's occupation and calling for freedom. In December 2013, one of them - Trinley Tsekar - was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Music is a vital part of Tibetans' resistance to Chinese rule. Singers like these not only keep alive a culture that China is trying to erase from the world, but their songs embody the aspirations, fears and courage of a people who remain proud and defiant after 65 years of occupation.
The Chinese state has undermined, dismantled and systematically attacked Tibetan culture for decades. By persecuting these musicians China is suppressing the culture of Tibet, as well as abusing their human rights.
In September 2015 we handed in a petition with more than 11,000 signatures to China's Justice Minister, demanding that the singers be released and that all Tibetans are free to express themselves without fear of punishment.
In 2014, we asked the senior UN official responsible for culture to intervene in the cases of Tibet’s imprisoned singers. In response to her communication, China confirmed that all the convicted musicians were sentenced for “separatist” activities.
Many of the musicians were arbirtraily detained for long periods prior to sentencing, with no information shared with their families. Several are husbands and fathers.
Browse this page to learn more about the singers, watch videos of them performing and read the English subtitles of the courageous and heartfelt words of their songs.
What are their songs about?
The songs share recurring themes around home, identity, language, culture and national pride. Many of the singers call for unity amongst Tibetan people, for example Trinley Tsekar's popular DVD entitled Ring of Unity.
One of Gongpo Tsezin's DVDs - No Losar - refers to Tibetans' decision not to celebrate Tibetan new year because of repression in the country.
The Dalai Lama
Many songs refer to the exiled Dalai Lama, praising him, calling for his return to Tibet or expressing a yearning to see him and be blessed by him. Sometimes the Dalai Lama is explicitly mentioned, other times he is referred to indirectly.
Examples include songs in Choksal's album Brotherly Friendship and Shawo’s popular album, Faraway Father.
Pema Tinley and Chakdor's album The Pain of an Unhealed Wound praises the Dalai Lama and calls on Tibetans to pay tribute to the self-immolation protesters. Achok Phulshung's song Heroes remembers the Tibetans who were killed in widespread protests in 2008.
Several singers are from areas which have seen intense protests and repression in recent years, including Choksal, Trinley Tsekar and Gongpo Tsezin's home, Driru County.
Tibet's Jailed Musicians:
Choksal. Detained: July 2012. Status: sentenced to two years in prison.
Shawo Tashi. Detained: November 2012. Status: sentenced to five years in prison.
Lolo, 30 years old. Detained: February 2013. Status: sentenced to six years in February 2013.
Trinley Tsekar, 22 years old. Detained: 20 November 2013. Status: sentenced to nine years in prison.
Gongpo Tsezin, 25 years old. Detained: 30 November 2013. Status: sentenced to three-and-a-half years in May 2015.
Kalsang Yarphel, 38 years old. Detained: July 2013. Status: sentenced to four years in prison and fined £20,000 (US$32,000) in 2014.
Chakdor, 32 years old, and Pema Tinley, 22 years old. Detained: 2012. Status: each sentenced to four years in February 2013.
Pema Rigzin, 42 years old. Detained: 7 May 2013. Status: sentenced to two years and six months in prison and fined approximately £5,000 (U$8,000) in November 2014.
Achok Phulshung, 33 years old. Detained: August 2012. Status: arbitrary detention.
Despite the musicians' imprisonments, their songs have become popular in many areas of Tibet. Often their songs are shared online, so Tibetans can hear their messages without the risk of possessing an album.
Watch the Youtube playlist for a selection of the jailed musicians' songs, some of which are subtitled in English (thanks to High Peaks Pure Earth for several of the videos and translations).
Note: Singer Gaybay was previously listed on this page but he has now been released.