Tibetan monk Rinchen Tsultrim sentenced to four and a half years in prison

Rinchen Tsultrim
24th June 2021

Rinchen had been arbitrarily detained since 2019 in an undisclosed location, leaving his loved ones in a state of uncertainty 

Free Tibet has received news that Rinchen Tsultrim, a 29-year-old Tibetan monk, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison earlier this year. The information was obtained by Tibet Watch, Free Tibet's research partner in Dharamsala, India.

Rinchen Tsultrim's sentence was handed down by a court in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. His parents were called on 26 March this year to inform them of the decision. The Chinese authorities said that his family members may visit him however details of the charges for his imprisonment were not explained. He is reportedly held in Xinduqiao, or Miyang Prison, located near Chengdu.

On 1 August 2019, Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) County Public Security Bureau arrested him on suspicion of “separatism” at Kardo in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province. During the entire period of his arbitrary detention which lasted more than a year, his exact location was never disclosed, leaving his family and close relatives uncertain of his condition and whereabouts.

In December 2020, Tibet Watch obtained an official notice issued by Ngaba Public Security Bureau, dated 23 March 2020, stating that Rinchen Tsultrim had been charged with inciting separatism, a state security crime. According to Tibet Watch’s sources, Rinchen Tsultrim was accused of publishing articles on Tibet issues on his WeChat account.

The son of Tashi Dhondup and Tsomo, Rinchen hails from a humble farming family, with five siblings in Kashul village, Ngaba County, Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. He enrolled at Nangshe (or Nangshik) Monastery of Bon religion at the age of six. The Chinese authorities have labelled his sister, who is in India, as an activist in exile and have kept her under close scrutiny. The Chinese authorities had last year posted the photo of her detained brother on his WeChat account as a warning. Rinchen’s family is said to be under constant pressure from the Chinese authorities.

Even before 2016, the cyber-surveillance authorities had frequently suspended Rinchen’s WeChat accounts. Rinchen continued to reconnect on social media and reopened an online account under the name of “niren1959”. 1959, the year in which the Dalai Lama fled to India is profoundly etched in the memory of Tibetans and the symbolic and unforgettable year is reflected in email ID, password, and profile names of Tibetans on social media. 

On 25 April 2019, the birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, who was disappeared by the Chinese government at the age of six, Rinchen’s telephone conversation with Tibetans outside Tibet was monitored and recorded. In 2018, the Public Security Bureau warned him twice for his online social media posts. His personal website entitled Tibetan, “བོད་དུ་ཆད་ལྟ་བ།” (“Skepticism on Tibet”) was also shut down. He is well-known for his commitment to preserving the Tibetan language. A Tibetan religious scripture he had obtained from abroad by post was perceived as a threat and its delivery was tracked by the post office.

Rinchen Tsultrim’s final post on his account “niren1959” says: 

“ངེས་དོན་གྱི་འདུལ་བ་པ་ཞིག་གིས་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་མཁྱེན་དཔྱོད་གླེང་གིན་འདུག་ དད་པའི་ཡུལ་ཡིན་ འདི་ཕྱིའི་སྐྱབས་ཡིན་”

“The one who has realised the truth of discipline/morality speaks the wisdom of Buddha

The one who is the source of faith

The one who is the refuge of this life and afterlife”