The Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has died in prison in China 13 years into serving a sentence for what human rights groups say were false charges that he was involved in a bombing in a public park. He was 65.
Tenzin Delek was arrested following an explosion in the city of Chengdu in April 2002 that injured three people. He was sentenced to death a few months later on charges of terrorism and inciting separatism. "I have always taught people that one should not harm any life, not even that of an ant," he said. "How could I then possibly be responsible for such an action?" His 28-year-old assistant, Lobsang Dhondup, was also sentenced to death, and was executed in January 2003, the first execution of a Tibetan for political crimes for 20 years.
Tenzin Delek's death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2005, and later to 20 years' imprisonment. Continuing to maintain his innocence, he was being held in a prison in Dazhu county in Sichuan province, which borders Tibet. Last year his family applied for medical parole on the grounds that he suffered from a heart condition, high blood pressure, dizzy spells and problems with his legs that had caused him to fall on a number of occasions.
Born in 1950 in a Tibetan area of Sichuan, Tenzin Delek stayed in India from 1982 to 1987 to study under the Dalai Lama, who during that time recognised him as a tulku, or a reincarnated lama. In 1987 he returned to China, where he worked to establish monasteries, health clinics, small schools and orphanages, rising in prominence. Human rights groups said his relationship with Chinese officials took a turn for the worse when he rolled back attempts to clear forests, and because of his support for the Dalai Lama.
In November 2009, 40,000 Tibetans in his home area signed a petition asking for a re-trial. They staged a hunger strike at the county seat of Lithang for several days, which led to the temporary arrest of about 70 Tibetans
"Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was an innocent monk who suffered over 13 years of unjust imprisonment, torture and abuse in a Chinese prison for advocating for the rights and well-being of his people and for expressing his devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama," his cousin, Geshe Nyima, said in a statement released by Students for a Free Tibet. "The Chinese government must release his body so that our family and community may perform the last Buddhist religious rites."
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, religious leader: born Lithang, Tibet 1950; died Chengdu, China 12 July 2015.Reuse content