Phurbu Rinpoche

Revered lama unjustly served eight years in prison

In December 2009, Phurbu Phubru Tsering Rinpoche (born 1957), a lama at Pangrina Nunnery, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison for the alleged ‘possession of weapons’ and ‘occupying state land’. His lawyers claim that his arrest was unlawful, that the evidence against him is unsound, and that he has been tortured in detention.

Free Tibet believes that Phurbu was detained following peaceful demonstrations by nuns from Pangrina Nunnery, as an act of retribution and to deter local Tibetans from further protest. He was the first reincarnate lama to be charged with a serious crime since Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was given a death sentence, later reduced to life after high-profile campaigning.


Phurbu Rinpoche

Phurbu Rinpoche

Phurbu’s Chinese lawyers, Li Fangpping and Jiang Tianyong could not be present at his sentencing as they had been disbarred from practising earlier in the year. However, they stated that his confession had been obtained after four days and nights of continuous interrogation, with Phurbu being handcuffed in the interrogation room in such a way that his arms were outstretched and he could not sit down. Furthermore, he was threatened that if he did not confess to owning the weapons then his wife and son would be detained and subject to the same treatment.

The lawyers stated that, under such harsh interrogation, Phurbu did ‘confess without reservation’, going against his will and submitting a forced and false confession to spare himself and his family. They further complained that they had not been allowed to meet with Phurbu, which they have the right to do under Chinese law.


The trial was postponed in April 2009. Li Fangping stated that no alternative data had yet been offered, and the fact that the authorities have now removed the lawyers’ right to practice may jeopardise the chance of a fair trial. It is thought that Phurbu could face anything between five to 15 years in prison.

Release from prison

In April 2016, lama Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche was finally released from Mianyang Prison in Sichuan, slightly before the completion of his eight-and-a-half-year sentence. In 2014, a visitor to Mianyang Prison noted his poor state of health, describing him as emaciated and almost unrecognisable. Following his release, little is known about his health condition. It is reported that Phurbu was escorted to his home in Dhartsedo, Kardze County, and that he has since travelled to Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

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