Tenzin Delek Rinpoche cremated in prison despite worldwide outcry

16th July 2015

UPDATE: China says political prisoner died of heart attack 20 July: Chinese state media is reporting that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died of a heart attack on Sunday 12 July. Authorities say he was found collapsed in his cell and attempts by medical staff to revive him were unsuccessful. Reports in state media cannot be relied upon for accuracy. There are also recent reports from Tibetan sources that members of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's family have been arrested.

16 July: Family call for investigation

The body of political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in custody on Sunday, was cremated in prison this morning (16 July) despite global calls for it to be returned to his family. Before the cremation, the Rinpoche’s sisters wrote letters to prison authorities demanding that they provide legal justifications for their actions in the period around and following his death last Sunday. In response to the letters, the prison offered access to the body, but insisted it would still be cremated in jail. The Chinese authorities had initially denied access to Rinpoche’s body and stated their intention to cremate it in prison.

Suspicious death

A group of 18 monks went to the prison to change Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s clothes and wash his body. At 6:30am a number of visitors were allowed into the prison to see the body but only two lamas and two relatives were allowed to stay and witness the cremation. Many Tibetans believe that Rinpoche had been poisoned due to reports that his lips and nails had turned black. One of Tibet's most significant political prisoners, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had suffered from serious illnesses but been denied medical parole despite the calls of many governments and international organisations. NB: Rinpoche is a religious title

Against China’s law

The letters submitted by his sisters on Wednesday, challenged authorities for their failure to issue a death certificate and requested a delay in his cremation - a request permitted under Chinese law but then ignored by the prison. They also sought the legal justification for the authorities' refusal to release his body.

Tibetan Protest

Following the cremation, the sit-in protest which was being carried out outside the prison dispersed. Protests have taken place in Nyagchu County (short clip below) outside the county government office next to Rinpoche's monastery and outside the prison in Chengdu. The protest in Nyagchu were later broken up with shots, tear gas and beatings. The US State Department and organisations worldwide had called for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body to his family

Take Action

Jails in Tibet are full of Tibetan political prisoners. Many are serving long-term sentences for voicing their opinions on the desperate situation in their country. Tell China's Minister of Justice Wu Aiying to release Tibet's political prisoners and to ensure that all Tibetans are free to express themselves without fear of punishment. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche protest in Nyagchu County