Remembering Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
12th July 2016

One year after death of highly respected political prisoner

On 12 July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, one of Tibet's most high profile political prisoners, died thirteen years into a 20-year sentence. The true cause of his death is still unknown. After he died, his body was cremated against his family's wishes, his family and community were persecuted and in a final insult, the police snatched his ashes from his family. The treatment of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in life and death says much about China's ruthlessness and contempt in regard to Tibet.

Standing up for Tibet

"Since I am a Tibetan, I have always been sincere and devoted to the interests and well-being of Tibetan people. That is the real reason why the Chinese do not like me and framed me. That is why they are going to take my precious life even though I am innocent."

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (Rinpoche is a religious title) was a highly respected community leader when he was arrested in April 2002 for alleged involvement in a bomb explosion. Following a trial in which no proper evidence was ever produced, he and his colleague Lobsang Dhondup were sentenced to death in December 2002.

Despite an appeal, Lobsang Dhondup was executed on 26 January 2003. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's death sentence was suspended and changed to life imprisonment in January 2005 and later reduced to 20 years. After his family failed to secure a review of the case, a series of protests took place in his home town of Lithang in December 2009. Shops closed in support as 40,000 Tibetans signed a petition to free Tenzin - others used red thumb prints. Each year, Tibetans in his home area marked his incarceration with prayers and calls for his release.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche continued to protest his innocence until his death. His case was regularly raised by foreign governments and serious concerns about his health led to repeated calls by campaigners and governments for his release. Despite him being entitled to medical parole, China refused to release him.

Mysterious death

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's family were permitted to visit him only once during his thirteen years in prison. He was held in a prison in Chengdu, just outside Tibet, and on 2 July 2015, they were suddenly invited to visit him. Once they reached Chengdu, however, they were repeatedly denied access to the prison. On 12 July, they were informed he had died - according to the authorities after unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him after a heart attack. Some monks accompanying the family were allowed to see his body and reported that his mouth and fingernails were black. However, the authorities refused to issue a proper death certificate or release his body.

Take action for Tibet's Robed Resisters

Many religious figures are jailed in Tibet. Please take action for Sonam Lhatso, a nun jailed for eight years.