Around a hundred Tibetans gathered on Tuesday outside a prison in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu to call on Chinese authorities to release the body of Tibetan Buddhist monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, while U.S. lawmakers and others slammed China’s treatment of the popular religious teacher and voiced sorrow at his death in prison in unexplained circumstances.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, died on Sunday 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.
“About a hundred have now arrived at the prison site where Rinpoche died, though it is difficult to give an exact figure,” Jamyang Nyendrak, a Tibetan living in exile in Europe, told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Tuesday.
Nine, including two sisters of the dead monk already present in Chengdu, had traveled there from Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) county in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Nyendrak said, citing contacts in the region.
Monks and nuns had also arrived from Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s monastery in Sichuan’s Nyagchuka (Yajiang) county, he said.
"Many left for Chengdu secretly on their own," Nyendrak said.
On Monday, Chinese police fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse a crowd of over a thousand who had gathered outside government offices in Nyagchuka to demand the return of the popular religious teacher’s body and call for an explanation of the circumstances of his death, Nyendrak said.
“Many who were injured were transported to hospital for treatment,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, about 50 protesters gathered at the Chinese consulate in New York, briefly shutting it down, said New York-based human rights activist Rose Tang. Another 40 protested outside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, sources said.
'Speak clearly, impose a price'
Also on Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers in Washington observed a moment of silence to honor Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and called in a hearing for more effective U.S. policies to support human rights in China and Tibet.
Speaking at the hearing called by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson urged the U.S. government to “speak more clearly and impose a price, and articulate what that price will be to the Chinese government when it does things like refuse to return the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family and community.”
A scheduled U.S. dialogue with China on counterterrorism should now be canceled, Richardson said.
“To have a counterterrorism dialogue with a government that prosecuted Tenzin Delek Rinpoche on charges of terrorism is appalling,” Richardson said.
Also testifying at the hearing, movie actor and longtime Tibet supporter Richard Gere noted that the popular Tibetan monk had had “tens of thousands of students, Tibetans and Chinese, and I think that was basically the problem.”
“This was someone who was bridging cultures,” Gere said.
“I think that is probably how he crossed the line with the Chinese government.”
Reported by Guru Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.