Clampdown Amid Questions Over Death of Tibetan Monk in Custody

tenzindelek-305.jpg A photo of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche taken by his monastery in Tibet in the 1990s.
Photo appears courtesy of Wikipedia

Authorities in southwestern China’s Sichuan province have launched a clampdown in the home county of a popular Tibetan monk who died last month amid unexplained circumstances in a Chinese prison, deploying security personnel and restricting communications, a Tibetan source in exile said Wednesday.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, died on July 12 in the 13th year of a life sentence imposed for what rights groups and supporters have described as a wrongful conviction on a bombing charge. He was widely respected among Tibetans for his efforts to protect Tibetan culture and the environment.

In recent weeks, authorities in Rinpoche’s Nyagchuka (in Chinese, Yajiang) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture have ordered residents to stop discussing the circumstances surrounding his death, Lobsang Yonten, a Tibetan exile living in south India, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“After his death, the Chinese authorities started conducting political re-education activities in the area, instructing people not to talk about it, saying it could lead to riots,” Yonten said, noting that many local residents are affiliated with Rinpoche’s Kham Nalanda Thekchen Jangchub Choling monastery.

“The authorities also tried to impress upon the public that Rinpoche had died a natural death and had received all possible medical treatment,” he said.

According to Yonten, young men in the county have been “forced to engage in military training and exercises,” while those who do not comply are “detained for several days” and subjected to re-education.

Local Tibetan devotees who wanted to attend a ritual prayer for Rinpoche at the Kham Nalanda Thekchen Jangchub Choling monastery were not permitted to do so, he said, adding that residents are required to obtain special permission from authorities before they can even go near the site.

“A large contingent of security forces is still deployed in the area and Rinpoche’s monastery is also surrounded by police and armed paramilitary units,” he said.

Sister and niece

On July 30, authorities freed the sister and niece of Rinpoche after holding the two women in custody in a secret location for nearly two weeks, the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said last week. No charges were filed against them, the group said.

Dolkar Lhamo, 55, and Nyima Lhamo, aged about 25, had been detained in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu on July 17 on suspicion of having shared information related to the death of Rinpoche with contacts outside the area.

TCHRD said that family and friends living outside Tibet feared the two women had been subjected to beatings, intimidation and possibly torture during their detention.

Yonten said Wednesday that they have been under police monitor since their release.

“Although the sister and her daughter were released, they are confined in their home without a phone, which the authorities took away,” he said.

“They were told not to meet or talk with their relatives and friends, nor are they permitted to travel away from their house.”

Call for investigation

Before being detained, Dolkar Lhamo had appealed to authorities for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding Rinpoche’s death, also submitting abstracts from China’s constitution on required procedures following the death of a prisoner belonging to a minority national group, one source told RFA in an earlier report.

“But the authorities refused to accept those representations,” the source said.

In its statement last week, TCHRD called for an “independent and impartial investigation” into the death of the widely respected monk, saying the Chinese government has a legal obligation to determine whether his death was caused intentionally or by negligence.

Despite protests from his family, Rinpoche’s remains were cremated by prison authorities on July 16.

Reported by Sonam Wangdu for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.