Rockers Call For Tibet Scholar's Release

McCartney, Bowie, Supergrass and others demand Ngawang Choephel's release.

The call for freedom in Tibet has now become the rallying cry for both the

old guard and the young turks of rock 'n' roll alike.

Three months after Beastie Boy Adam Yauch staged the second annual Tibetan

Freedom Concert in the United States, British rockers have lent their names

to a petition calling for the release of imprisoned Tibetan music scholar

Ngawang Choephel. Among those calling for Choephel's emancipation are such

rock royalty as Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Sting, as well as

Radiohead, Supergrass, Annie Lennox and Peter Gabriel.

The letter, sent to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, calls for the immediate

release of Choephel, who was sentence to 18 years in prison for spying

while filming ethnic music and dance performances. "We believe that he has

committed no crimes, that he was merely exercising his freedom of

expression as a musician, as someone who is interested in musical culture,"

said Alison Reynolds, director of the Free Tibet Campaign in London. "To

sentence him to 18 years in jail is an outrage."

Choephel was carrying out a cultural project in Tibet during the summer of

1995 when he was arrested. "He was making video recordings of Tibetan

people singing and dancing, with the idea that he would make a permanent

record of their threatened culture," said Reynolds. The scholar intended

to give his documentary to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader,

as a present.

Reynolds said Choephel was first seen in Chinese custody two years ago this

week. After being arrested, he was detained for 15 months without

explanation before the government acknowledged his arrest. "In December

1996, he was convicted of espionage," Reynolds said. "They claim that he

was spying on behalf of the Dalai Lama and that his video recording was

just a front for gathering information."

One copy of the petition was sent to President Jiang Zemin in China.

Reynolds said that she and others attempted to deliver another copy to the

Chinese embassy in London on Tuesday (Sept. 16), but were rebuffed by

representatives there. "Although we were initially admitted into the

building, the staff there refused to allow us to present the petition."

Reynolds said members of the Free Tibet Campaign watched as embassy

officials threw the letter in a trash can. "I think it was an unfortunate

response," she said.

Earlier this year, a similar letter on Choephel's behalf -- signed by U.S.

musicians such as Cypress Hill, Michael Stipe, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and

others -- was delivered to U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who pledged to urge

Chinese leaders to discuss the plight of Tibet with the Dalai Lama.

Reynolds said that while there are no plans yet for a British equivalent of

the Tibetan Freedom Concert, such an event is a possibility. "The music

industry have always been very supportive of Tibet. We will continue to

work very closely with them, particularly on cases like Ngawang Choephel's."

[Wed., Sept. 17, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]