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Singing Louder: Echoes of Drapchi Prison

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Singing Louder: Echoes of Drapchi Prison

A Reunion of Tibet's 'Singing Nuns'

By the mid 1990s there were known to be more than 164 female prisoners held in Drapchi Prison, Tibet. Most of them were nuns, some as young as fifteen years of age, imprisoned for their religious and political beliefs, and for taking part in peaceful demonstrations calling for Tibetan freedom. They were subjected to inhumane treatment including interrogation, torture, solitary confinement, beatings, and years of malnutrition. For many of them, singing songs was a vital source of comfort; a way of expressing solidarity and support for each other - and an expression of determination and defiance. These songs often used metaphors to describe loyalty and devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Panchen Lama, and a longing for the freedom of their homeland. In June 1993, fourteen nuns secretly recorded pro-independence songs on a cassette recorder borrowed from the 'criminal' prisoners (as apposed to 'political' prisoners who were not allowed such luxuries). The tape recorder was passed from cell to cell in bundles of clothes. Taking it in turns to record each song at night while the night-watch was out of earshot, the nuns' songs told of their unwavering devotion to the Dalai Lama and of their yearning for the freedom of Tibet. One of the tapes was smuggled out of the prison and copies were later distributed literally around the world. Meanwhile, when Chinese officials learnt of the recordings, the nuns were interrogated and beaten, and their sentences were increased by between five and nine years each. The aim of this project is to reunite six of these former political prisoners in Europe in 2008 to record a CD, embark on a concert tour and make a documentary film. As well as highlighting the lack of human rights and freedom of speech in Tibet at the time of the Beijing Olympics, Singing Louder will commemorate the tenth anniversary of protests inside Drapchi Prison in 1998, after which five nuns were tortured to death.