Tashi Dhondup, a popular Tibetan singer from the eastern Tibetan region of Amdo, was detained on December 3, 2009. Tashi Dhondup is being held in a police station in Xining according to a report from Tibetan exiles. He had issued an album of songs called ‘Torture Without Wounds’ containing lyrics that express his pain over the situation in Tibet.

Artists and writers have been at increased risk in the ongoing crackdown that has followed the Tibetan protests that began on March 10, 2008 in Lhasa and spread across the Tibetan plateau.

Exile Tibetans, in contact with sources in Tibet, report that Tashi Dhondup was detained by four police personnel in a restaurant in Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai.

Tashi Dhondup appears to have been under political suspicion after the release of his album in October. Some of his lyrics refer to: “The pain that there is no freedom in the land of Tibet. The pain that the heritage of our ancestors has been taken away.” Another song express the widely-held desire of the Tibetan people for the Dalai Lama to return home: “Our root-lama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama / Please stop the life of exile in the land of others and come home as soon as possible / All the devoted men and women are around your golden throne waiting for you”.

Thousands of copies of the album were sold in the area following its release.

Born into a family of nomads in Sarlang town, Yugan county, Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) prefecture, Qinghai province, 30-year old Tashi Dhondup has since become a popular singer throughout the Tibetan area of Amdo (now compromising most of Qinghai province and parts of Gansu and Sichuan province).

Tashi Dhondup was previously detained in September 2008, according to the Tibetan sources, and accused by authorities of including ‘counter-revolutionary content’ in a song entitled ‘The Year of 1959,’ the year of the Lhasa Uprising and the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. He was detained and beaten for over seven days by police in Xining.

According to the same sources, Tashi Dhondup was detained last week at gun-point while his wife wept and grabbed one of the police officer’s legs in an attempt to hold him back. There are fears for his safety and welfare.

In new cultural campaigns across Tibet, Chinese authorities are focusing on the ‘cultural goods market’ in order to more closely scrutinize music videos for Tibetan nationalist messages and themes, and Tibetan language blogs and other publications which push the narrow limits of permissible expression.

The Tibetan region of Amdo, Tashi Dhondup’s home area, had until March 2008 been governed with a slightly more relaxed political atmosphere which allowed for a more vibrant cultural life than in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). However, under the present circumstances, almost any expression of Tibetan identity not sanctioned by the state can be branded ‘reactionary’ or ‘splittist,’ and any comment on current affairs is liable to be treated as ‘rumor-mongering.’ (For more information, see: ‘A Great Mountain Burned by Fire: China’s crackdown in Tibet,’ ICT, March 2009)