Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in the greatest indifference in a Chinese prison

On 12 July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly respected Tibetan religious leader, who was held captive for 13 years in the Chuandong prison (Sichuan province), died in unexplained circumstances.


A French association protests in Lyon after Tenzin Rinpoche's death. Picture credits: Grégory Chariot

Last Saturday, on 18 July 2015, a group of supporters of the Tibetan cause protested in Lyon, France, against the lack of governmental response to his death and the Chinese’s refusal to offer him a proper Buddhist funeral rite. Moreover, they expressed serious concerns about the recent arrest of the monk’s sister and niece who were arrested after his family claimed that his corpse be restored.

According to the NGO France Tibet, the few Tibetan monks who prepared his body for cremation on Thursday shared their suspicions surrounding the circumstances of his death, fearing that he had been poisoned in prison.

A lifelong battle

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death in 2002 after being accused by Beijing of "crimes of terrorism and inciting separatism". While one of his Tibetan friends and activist was immediately executed, his sentence was later converted into a life sentence in prison, later reduced to twenty years. Recognized as a reincarnated lama in the 1980s by the Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was a community leader and advocate for the protection and preservation of the Tibetan culture, recalled International Campaign for Tibet. (ICT).

According to Human Rights Watch, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s case “was the culmination of a decade-long effort by Chinese authorities to curb his efforts to foster Tibetan Buddhism, his support for the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, and his work to develop Tibetan social and cultural institutions. His efforts had become a focal point for Tibetans struggling to retain their cultural identity in the face of China’s restrictive policies and its continuing persecution of individuals attempting to push the accepted boundaries of cultural and social expression.”

His health condition was very critical as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had a serious heart condition for which he received no treatment, complained Human Rights advocacy groups.

A symbol for Tibet’s fate?

The Tibetan activist’s death occurred while the world is celebrating the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. Tenzin Gyatso, Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and spiritual leader of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese authorities, has been living for over fifty years in exile in India. Despite the notorious image of “a tireless campaigner for peace and independence”, he announced his withdrawal from the post of head of government in 2011, after the election of a Prime Minister by the Tibetan exile community. This political transition will heavily affect the balance of power with China, the international relations game and the struggle for independence. If it is too early to debate about the consequences of this renewed leadership, it is tragic to note that 142 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet and China since 27 February 27 2009, with the latest cases dating just from June 2015. An observation that cannot underestimate the lack of freedom and opportunity for Tibetan citizens, who are jailed in their own country.



Le leader tibétain Tenzin Delek Rinpoche est mort, La Croix. Published on July 16th 2015.  http://www.la-croix.com/Urbi-et-Orbi/Actualite/Carnet/Le-leader-tibetain...


CHENGDU, 20 juillet 2015 : L’état de la dépouille de Tenzin Delek Rinpoche alimente les soupçons sur son traitement en prison. France Tibet. Published on July 19th 2015.  http://www.tibet.fr/actualites/letat-de-la-depouille-de-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-alimente-les-soupcons-sur-son-traitement-en-prison/


STOP PRESS: on 12 July 2015 Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in a Chinese prison. Free Tibetan heroes. Published on July 12th 2015. http://freetibetanheroes.org/portfolio-items/tenzin-delek-rinpoche/


Self-immolations by Tibetans. International Campaign for Tibet. Published on July 10th. http://www.savetibet.org/resources/fact-sheets/self-immolations-by-tibetans/


Le toit du monde à l’heure zéro. Arte. Published on June 30th 2015. http://www.arte.tv/guide/fr/055987-000/le-toit-du-monde-a-l-heure-zero