The niece of a popular Tibetan religious leader who died last year under suspicious circumstances in a Chinese prison says that the widely respected monk was murdered in custody and has called for an investigation into the circumstances leading to his death.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, died in prison in July 2015 in southwestern China’s Sichuan province while serving 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 Tibet’s traditional culture, religion, and environment.
Speaking to the press on Thursday in Dharamsala, India, Nyima Lhamo—who successfully escaped from Tibet into India earlier in the week—said that when she and her mother, Tenzin Delek’s sister, finally viewed the dead monk’s body after being blocked in their efforts by authorities, “I saw that his mouth had turned black.”
“We accused the authorities of having killed Rinpoche by poisoning him,” Lhamo said.
“We then asked for the address of any hospital where he had been seen, along with a copy of any medical report they may have prepared, but none of this was given to us.”
“So [we concluded that] he had been murdered,” she said.
Lhamo, 26, and her mother Dolkar Lhamo were later detained for two weeks in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu on suspicion of having shared information related to Tenzin Delek’s death with contacts outside the area, she said.
After refusing to sign a document requiring them not to make further accusations in connection with the monk’s death, Lhamo and her mother were finally released after being told that their village leader had signed the conditions on their behalf.
“We were strictly instructed to follow his directions,” Lhamo said.
“After my uncle’s death, the Chinese authorities launched a smear campaign against him, calling him a ‘fake lama’ and forbidding his followers from displaying his photo,” she said.
“No one is allowed to say that he was murdered,” Lhamo said.
“I am fully aware that by speaking out now about Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, I am risking the lives of my family and relatives at home,” she said.
“I appeal to the world to launch an investigation into the cause of my uncle’s death.”
Reported by Urgen Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.