Ngawang Choephel, a Tibetan entho-musicologist and Fulbright Scholar, set out to make a film about traditional Tibetan music and dance. A year later, he was wrongly convicted of “espionage and counter-revolutionary activities.” China announced that he had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for spying. The trial was closed, and no evidence has ever been made public.
Ngawang Choephel was held in Powo Tramo prison and was reported to be in poor health, suffering from ”bronchitis, hepatitis and respiratory infections”.
Choephel’s conviction and imprisonment spurred an outcry from human rights groups around the world, including Amnesty International. Many wrote letters pleading for his release as Amnesty considered him to be a prisoner of conscience.
These efforts paid off at last in January 2002, when Choephel was granted his freedom, after serving more than six years in Chinese prisons. “You just can’t believe he got out,” said Kate Lazarus, Amnesty’s Tibet specialist, who met Choephel soon after his arrival. “You dream and you hope that these people will be released, but you never know.”
At the time of his detention he had been gathering material for the production of a documentary film about traditional Tibetan performing arts.
The documentary he was working on prior to his arrest in China is finally being released in the U.S. on September 24th. Tibet in Song is a feature length documentary that celebrates the traditional Tibetan folk music and encompasses a harrowing journey into the past fifty years of cultural repression inside Chinese controlled Tibet.
Read the rest of the story here, and watch the trailer below.