Songs of freedom

Already having served nine months imprisonment for Tibetan independence activities, Sonam Gonpo was arrested again in 1996 after Chinese authorities suspected he and his musical group of propagating independence messages.

Sonam Gonpo, commonly known as Sogon, was born in Tsenyi township under Ngapa prefecture now incorporated into the Chinese province of Sichuan. He studied in Ngapa County Middle School from 1983 to 1986 and for three more years in the Higher Middle School.

In October 1989, Sogon became involved in a pro-independence movement and distributed leaflets during a protest reading “Long live the Tibetan Independence” and “Tibetans should hold their own land”. He was subsequently arrested and detained for nine months in Ngapa prison without trial. There he was tortured and beaten with cattle prods, sticks and iron bars.

After Sogon’s release, while working as a primary school teacher in Ngapa Tsenyi township, he learnt to play the guitar and sing Amdo folk songs. He began to write his own songs and choreograph dance movements.

In 1996 Sogon formed a local group of 14 artistes and they began touring Tibet giving concerts. Their tremendous popularity alarmed Chinese authorities who suspected that the concerts were propagating pro-independence messages.

On 27 November 1996, nine members of the People’s Armed Police raided Sogon’s house. They confiscated two volumes of newly written song text, 52 pictures of the Dalai Lama and 72 audio cassettes. They arrested Sogon and detained him for two months in Ngapa prison. After his relatives paid 3,400 yuan to the prison authorities, he was finally released on 1 February 1997.

Sogon, his wife, and two small daughters, reached Dharamsala on 28 April 1997.

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