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Tibetan cultural figures 'detained after protests'

June 29, 2010

International observers have called for action
following accusations that China has been
arresting leading Tibetan writers, poets and
musicians in a crackdown on cultural figures, as
The World Tonight's Paul Moss reports.
June 28, 2010

Singer silenced

The lyrics of the song are not exactly subtle:
"The occupation and denial of freedom of
Tibetans/This is torture without trace."

Another sounds a note of defiance: "Courageous
patriotic martyrs/Have sacrificed their lives for
Tibet/It pains my heart thinking of them/And the tears fall from my eyes."

Defiant the words may be, but they appear to have
cost their writer his freedom.

The singer, Tashi Dhondup, was arrested in China
at the end of last year, and in January he was
sentenced to 15 months hard labour.

But his real crime may have been simply that he was so popular.

His CDs were passed among Tibetans, individual
songs shared over the internet and by mobile phone.

"Tashi Dhondup reflected the trauma that Tibetans
were feeling," said Dechen Pemba, a London-based blogger.

"The police came to his home and his wife was
begging with the police officers - they're a
young couple with a newly-born baby. But he was arrested and taken away."

Tashi Dhondup was not alone. Prominent Tibetan
environmentalist Karma Samdrup was jailed last week for 15 years.

And according to a report by the International
Campaign for Tibet, more than 50 writers, poets
and musicians have been rounded up over the past few months.


Many have received tough sentences and, according
to the campaign's spokeswoman Kate Saunders, many
were people not usually regarded as dissidents.

"They're being... taken from their homes in the middle of the night," she said.

"These are individuals who are politically
moderate, often secular, and yet the Chinese
authorities are seeking to silence them."

It is still not clear exactly what motivated the crackdown.

Certainly, the last two years have seen a
flowering of overtly-critical Tibetan songs,
poems and other artistic outpourings.

They date from the protests that broke out in the
spring of 2008, which saw violent confrontations
between indigenous Tibetans and the ethnic Han
Chinese who have been resettled there over the past few decades.

But despite clear challenges to Beijing's
authority, Robbie Barnett, director of Columbia
University's Modern Tibetan Studies programme,
said the Chinese government itself may not be
behind the arrests and prison sentences.

He believes that over-zealous local officials
were the more likely instigators: "Local
officials make their own minds up about who they're going to crack down on.

"They don't care about international responses.
They may have an interest in being much more heavy-handed," he said.

'Sneaking like bandits'

Another writer who has been on the receiving end
of this treatment is Shogdung - he was arrested
in April and campaigners have not heard from him since.

Shogdung's case is particularly pointed, as he
had previously been seen as loyal to the Chinese
government - he had criticised Tibet's version of
Buddhism - and had said the Tibetan people needed
to sort out their own problems.

But in the wake of the 2008 battles, Shogdung had
become increasingly critical of Beijing and this
year published an unauthorised book The Line Between Sky and Earth.

It contained a scathing denunciation of Chinese
rule: "My flesh is petrified, my bones hurt. They
have made everyone helpless and desperate. In daytime, they run like jackals.

"At night, they sneak in like bandits.... we have
been beaten, seized, arrested, condemned,
sentenced, massacred. They have made us unable or
afraid to move, to speak, to think. Everything
and everyone has become inert because of fear."

One of the last people to meet Shogdung was the
French journalist Ursula Gauthier, who
interviewed him just two weeks before his arrest.

"He was clear he was heading for trouble," she said.

"But I'm not really sure he'll cope very well
with detention. Although he looks very strong, I
think he's more the fragile type."

The Chinese Embassy in London has refused to
comment on Shogdung's case, or on the arrest and
detention of any other Tibetans.

A spokesman said there was nobody available to discuss the matter.

Hear more in a full report by Paul Moss on BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight.
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