12 Years Too Many: Release Tenzin Delek Rinpoche on medical parole

Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) observes with deep concern the 12th anniversary of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s arbitrary arrest on 7 April 2002 which eventually led to life imprisonment.

Popularly known as A-Nga Tashi, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is a highly-respected lama in Lithang County, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, in the Tibetan province of Kham. Rinpoche is renowned for his active involvement in the restoration of Tibetan culture and religion, social welfare activities and his bold statements about repressive Chinese policies in Tibet. On 5 December 2002, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and his nephew Lobsang Dhondup were sentenced to death with two years’ reprieve and death sentence respectively. Lobsang Dhondup was executed but Rinpoche’s suspended death sentence was commuted to life due to international pressure.

TCHRD believes that Rinpoche was wrongfully imprisoned and his basic human rights were denied during the entire process from detention to sentencing. He was secretly detained for seven months before his appearance at a court trial. He was denied access to attorneys or to private visitors during the entire duration of his detention, thereby confirming allegations of torture.

It is widely believed that Tibetan religious leaders, due to their ability to influence the local people, have always become soft targets for persecution in the hands of Chinese authorities. This pattern of perceiving religious leaders as threat has resulted in a series of arrests and unlawful imprisonment of revered lamas including Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche and Bangri Rinpoche, to name a few. Due to their personal charisma and moral standing among the local people, Chinese authorities have devised various means to demonise and taint the reputation of Tibetan lamas.

Recent information obtained by TCHRD reveals that Rinpoche is in extreme health condition. His heart condition has worsened and he has suffered nervous breakdowns in the past years. He now carries a walking stick as his feet got injured due to unknown causes in prison. There is a great concern among Rinpoche’s disciples and followers that he is not receiving proper medical care in prison. He is now 64 years old and his condition remains critical.

TCHRD is deeply concerned about the health and well-being of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who had spent a large part of his life making positive contribution to his community. TCHRD urges the Chinese government to release Rinpoche on humanitarian grounds so he could get immediate and appropriate medical care. TCHRD appeals the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, governments and the international community to press on China to release Rinpoche.



Trulku Tenzin Delek Thupten Choekyi Nyima was born in 1950 to Tsepak Dorjee and Dolma Choezom in Lithang (Ch: Litang) County in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. He entered the monastery at the age of seven and sought his ordination from Khensur Shakpa.

In 1978, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche met with the previous 10th Panchen Lama at Labrang Tashikyil Monastery to express concerns over Chinese authorities inflicting torture on local Tibetans. He got the permission from Beijing to build a monastery and the Panchen Lama named it Kham Nalanda Thekchen Jhangchup Choling. In 1983, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognised him as the reincarnation of Geshe Adham Phuntsok and gave him the name, Trulku Tenzin Delek.

When he returned to Tibet in 1987, Rinpoche was constantly under surveillance for alleged political activities and connections with the Dalai Lama. Until his arrest on 7 April 2002, Rinpoche was active in social welfare activities in Lithang County.

Between 1991 and 1997, Rinpoche built seven monasteries, hospital, an old people’s home and a school for orphans and children from poor families in Nyagchuka County. He was also an active environmentalist and a teacher to hundreds of thousands of followers and disciples.

Rinpoche was very popular among the local people as significant portion of them trusted him over district cadres to solve communal problems fairly and efficaciously, in part because of his willingness to approach provincial and central government officials when local efforts failed. In 2001, a series of bomb blasts ripped through Kardze Prefecture. On 3 April 2002, a bomb went off in the city’s main square, Tianfu, in Chengdu. Shortly afterwards, Chinese police arrested Lobsang Dhondup, a relative and disciple of Rinpoche.

The Chinese police alleged that Lobsang Dhondup was involved with the explosions. His room was ransacked and police found a photo of Rinpoche. It was how Rinpoche was linked to the entire incident. Both Rinpoche and Lobsang Dhondup had declared their innocence and the authorities could not produce any substantial evidence to corroborate their allegations, conviction and sentencing.

The persecution of Rinpoche and Lobsang Dhondup occurred at a time when China had just begun using the ruse of ‘war on terror’ to crack down on legitimate dissidence and activism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York.  Moreover, the controversial hardliner Zhou Yongkang served as the Party Secretary of Sichuan Province from 1999 to 2002, a period during which Trulku was arrested and sentenced. Shortly after Tenzin Delek’s conviction, Zhou was promoted as China’s Minister of Public Security, a post he held with iron fist until 2012.

The well-known Chinese writer, Wang Lixiong had written on a Chinese language website, “Trulku Tenzin Delek is a lama who is respected by all the people. By putting the label of a terrorist on him, putting him on trial and clamping the death sentence on him, the Chinese police might think they have accomplished something great.” Wang Lixiong further wrote that he did not believe that Rinpoche was involved in the bombings: “By this act, the Chinese police have used one arrow to kill two deer. The Chinese police have cut Trulku Tenzin Delek down to size and have claimed success in solving the mystery of the April bomb blasts.”

In a secretly recorded message, smuggled out of Tibet, Trulku had said: “Whatever [the authorities] do and say, I am completely innocent … Around that time, one of my friends called me and asked if [Lobsang Dhondup] was my relative. Then I became suspicious that something serious was going on. When I heard about the explosions and arrest of Lobsang Dhondup, I suspected that I might be wrongly accused and arrested-that I might become a scapegoat.”