UPDATED AND EDITED AT 1530 EST TO CLARIFY CHINESE LAW REGARDING THREATS TO NATIONAL SECURITY
HONG KONG—Two sisters of a prominent Tibetan monk serving a life sentence in a Chinese jail despite an international outcry have visited him the southwestern province of Sichuan, where supporters have repeatedly rallied in his defense.
"The two sisters met Tenzin Delek Rinpoche on April 27, 2010," said a source from Lithang, a Tibetan region of Sichuan province.
"They had been requesting to meet him for a long time."
The source said the sisters hurried to an unspecified meeting place some 200 miles (320 kms) from the provincial capital, Chengdu, after being informed of the meeting two days earlier.
A second source confirmed the visit.
"On April 25, 2010, the deputy governor and the head prosecutor in Lithang county suddenly appeared at the house of Sonam Dekyi and Dolkar, the two sisters of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and informed them that they could see their brother," the second source indicated.
The sisters were told by prison authorities that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had health problems, both sources said.
"When they met on April 27, the head of the prison and the doctor informed the sisters that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was suffering from ailments related to bones, heart, and blood pressure," the Tibetan source said in a written statement.
It added that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had recently suffered a fall, possibly caused by his ill health, according to the prison officials.
An initial death sentence handed down to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was commuted to life imprisonment by the Sichuan provincial People's Court on Jan. 26, 2005.
He was accused of being linked to a series of bombings in southwestern China in previous years, but has always protested his innocence.
He has vocal and active support among the Tibetan nomads of Lithang, whose protests are thought to have prompted permission for the sisters' visit.
According to one Tibetan source, the two sisters told their brother of their attempts to protest his innocence to authorities in Beijing.
He urged them to continue, saying he too had sent letters to 26 government departments.
Several sources said Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had played down reports of his ill-health, and that his sisters had said he looked reasonably well.
"I think that the two sisters were allowed to see him because of promises [the Chinese authorities] made when there were huge rallies of local Tibetans in support of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Lithang and Nyakchukha in December 2009," said an exiled Tibetan source from Lithang, now based at the Drepung monastery in southern India.
Dozens of Tibetan youths staged protests in Lithang in early December 2009 to appeal for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's release, leading to dozens of detentions and clashes with police, sources in the region said at the time.
The protests prompted a huge influx of Chinese security forces into Nyakchukha and Lithang ahead of a major annual horse-racing festival, the site of previous unrest.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death in December 2002 along with a relative, Lobsang Dhondup, who was executed almost immediately.
Under Chinese law, anyone convicted of "endangering state security," a category that includes politically motivated charges such as "splittism" and "subversion," can face execution if the circumstances are serious.
But the law provides some exceptions. "Inciting splittism," one of the charges against Lobsang Dondrub and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, is one such exception.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, based at a monastery in nomad-dominated Othok, was granted a two-year reprieve, then had his sentence commuted to life in 2005.
In 2004, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese authorities of persecuting Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and said his case highlighted ongoing strictures placed on Tibetans in China.
Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche pending a new trial conforming to international standards.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.