A popular Tibetan monk serving a life term in prison in China's Sichuan province has died after being known to be in extremely poor health with a serious heart condition for which he allegedly received no treatment, according to sources and rights groups.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who had been imprisoned since 2002 after what rights groups and supporters described as a wrongful conviction on a bombing charge, died on Sunday, the sources said. He was 65 years old.
"Chinese police informed his relatives that he was seriously ill and when they rushed to visit him, they were told he was already dead," one source inside Tibet told RFA's Tibetan Service.
Another source said Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's body has not been handed over to his family after his death at 4:00 p.m. local time
Two of his relatives had been in Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, for more than a week hoping to visit the ailing monk in Mianyang jail but they were not allowed by the authorities to see him, the source said.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who was highly respected by Tibetans, was charged with involvement in an April 3, 2002 bombing in the central square of Chengdu and initially sentenced to death in December that year along with an assistant, Lobsang Dondrub.
His death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, but Lobsang Dondrub was executed almost immediately, prompting an outcry from rights activists who questioned the fairness of the trial.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded in a report two years after the trial that the legal proceedings against Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had been “procedurally flawed” and that he was charged only in order to “curb his efforts to foster Tibetan Buddhism … and his work to develop Tibetan social and cultural institutions.”
Authorities had begun to perceive Tenzin Delek Rinpoche as a threat as his “local status rose and he successfully challenged official policies on a number of issues,” HRW said in its report.
Students for a Free Tibet, a global Tibetan group, said Sunday it was "devastated" by his death. "A Tibetan hero has died in Chinese prison," it said.
"Over 13 years of unjust imprisonment and torture in prison left him with critical medical conditions for which he received no treatment," the group said.
It charged that he "has died under suspicious circumstances," calling him "a revered Tibetan Buddhist teacher and outspoken advocate for his people."
"Tibetans inside Tibet are already demanding local authorities to release his body to arrange Buddhist religious rites," the group said.
Recognized by Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as a reincarnated lama in the 1980s, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had been a community leader and a staunch advocate for the protection and preservation of Tibetan culture, religion, and way of life for decades, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) had said.
He had been held in detention for over 13 years "for a crime that he did not commit," ICT said.
More than 40,000 Tibetans had signed their names to a petition asking for his release, each attesting to their signature by adding a thumbprint in red ink, the ICT said. "Every single one of the 40,000 Tibetan signers knows that they risk their freedom and perhaps their lives by speaking out for the Tenzin Delek Rinpoche."
Tibetans had also been protesting for his release since he was detained in 2002 and many were themselves jailed for the action.
Reported by Lhuboom and Kalden Lodoe for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Kalden Lodoe. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.