Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have imposed tight controls on the movements of Tibetans in Lithang, hometown of revered lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, five years after the well-loved religious teacher’s death under suspicious circumstances in a Chinese prison, Tibetan sources say.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, died on July 12, 2015 while serving a life sentence following what rights groups and supporters called a wrongful conviction on a charge of bombing a public square in the provincial capital Chengdu in April 2002.
He was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. An assistant, Lobsang Dondrub, was meanwhile executed almost immediately, prompting an outcry from rights activists who questioned the fairness of the trial.
Tibetans in Lithang have now been ordered by authorities not to gather in public, burn incense, share photos on social media, or otherwise observe the fifth anniversary of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death, the Washington-based advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said on July 13, citing anonymous sources in Lithang.
“There were warnings of unspecified ‘consequences’ for anyone who violated the restrictions,” ICT said in a statement, adding that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche before his arrest had become “well known in Tibet for his social work, including building medical, educational and religious institutions.”
In a tape-recorded message smuggled out of prison in January 2003 and obtained by RFA, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche denied involvement in the series of bomb blasts in western China for which he had been sentenced, saying, “I was wrongly accused because I have always been sincere and devoted to the interests of the Tibetan people.”
“The Chinese did not like what I did or what I said, and that is the only reason why I was arrested,” he said.
A mysterious death
In July 2015, Chinese police informed Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s relatives that he was seriously ill. But when they rushed to visit him, they were told he was already dead, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Despite protests from his family, prison authorities cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s remains four days later.
In July 2016, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s niece Nyima Lhamo fled Tibet into exile in India to press for an investigation into the circumstances leading to his death.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s treatment by China “has exposed China’s mockery of justice and lack of due process for Tibetan political prisoners in Tibet,” relative and disciple Geshe Jamyang Nyima, now living in exile, told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Monday.
“His case has put an international spotlight on human rights issues in Tibet,” Geshe Nyima said.
“Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s main accomplishment is that he took the advice of [exiled spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama to heart, and he followed it up with his actions and his words.”