Prison authorities in southwestern China’s Sichuan province have cremated the remains of Tibetan Buddhist monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, proceeding against the wishes of relatives and supporters who had wanted the popular religious teacher’s body returned to his native county for traditional rites, Tibetan sources said.
The cremation took place in the early morning hours on Thursday at a prison in the provincial capital Chengdu, the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet said in a July 16 statement.
“At 6:30 am 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, which took place inside the prison,” Free Tibet said.
“The crowd that had gathered outside the prison has now dispersed,” the statement said.
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 popular among Tibetans for his efforts to protect Tibetan culture and the environment.
Around 140 Tibetans—including family members, monastic representatives, and residents of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s home county—later gathered in Chengdu to demand return of the body.
On July 13, Tibetan villagers and Chinese police clashed in Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s native Nyagchuka (in Chinese, Yajiang) county, leaving at least 15 injured after security forces fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Geshe Nyima, a relative and student of the dead monk, expressed heartbreak and anger at the death and cremation in prison of the widely respected religious leader, and demanded that Chinese authorities explain the circumstances surrounding his death.
“My family cannot accept this,” Nyima said, quoted on Thursday on the Tibetans news site phayul.com.
“We will not stop demanding justice until we have answers,” he said.
“Chinese authorities denied us our right to pay our final respect to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and refused to return his body to us for Buddhist rites.”
“My family believes he was murdered,” he said.