China releases four Tibetans detained for petitioning in Beijing

Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Four Tibetan laymen who were detained two weeks ago for petitioning the Chinese central authorities have been released. The petitioners were calling for the release of Trulku Tenzin Delek, a popular religious figure from Nyagchu (Ch: Yajiang) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.

According to information received by TCHRD, four Tibetan laymen Sogren Lori, 66, Lugzi Abey, 50, Lhagma Choedup, 64, and Trinley, 46, were detained on 20 July at Chengdu after their return from Beijing. Trulku Tenzin Delek’s sister Donkar Lhamo, 47, was also among the group although she was not detained. The group, representing local Tibetans in Nyagchu County, visited Beijing from 9 July to submit petition to the Chinese central government and other relevant offices.

Sources told TCHRD that officers from the Nyagchu County Public Security Bureau (PSB) detained the four men for fourteen days at Kara Detention Centre in Nyagchu County.  The detainees were asked to pay Yuan 4,000 each to secure their release. However, the detained and their family members refused to pay the arbitrary fine imposed by the County PSB. Last week, they were released albeit on different days without paying the fine.

In the petition, Nyagchu Tibetans called for the release of Trulku Tenzin Delek who is serving life imprisonment in Mianyang Prison in Sichuan Province. In the past 11 years of Trulku’s imprisonment, Nyagchu Tibetans have time and again called for the release of Trulku who they believe had been jailed on trumped-up charges of masterminding a series of bomb blast in Chengdu city. The petition also called for the release of Trulku on medical parole if a retrial could not be arranged.

Relatives of Trulku Tenzin Delek on the plane to Beijing. From left: Donkar Wangmo, Sogren Lori and Lhagma Choedrup
Relatives of Trulku Tenzin Delek on the plane to Beijing. From left: Donkar Wangmo, Sogren Lori and Lhagma Choedrup

According to Trulku’s relatives and disciples, the latest petition calls on the Chinese authorities to withdraw false “terrorism” charges against Trulku since thousands of Tibetans in Nyagchu County have for many years petitioned all levels of local government rejecting the charges. In December 2009, more than 30,000 Tibetans in Nyagchu County signed a petition calling for the release of Trulku.

Six prison visits within 10 years

Since his imprisonment in 2002, Trulku’s relatives were allowed only six prison visits. Each visit lasted for half an hour and a prison official always stood by closely monitoring the visit. Prison officials had also told Trulku’s visitors not to discuss anything “unpleasant” or “irrelevant” saying they would not take responsibility if something happened to Trulku as he had heart disease.

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An undated picture of Sogren Lori

According to relatives, during each visit, Trulku maintained his earlier stand that he had done nothing to violate Chinese laws, further asking his relatives to arrange for re-trial or appeal for medical parole.

China’s ‘war on terror’

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 Trulku.

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

It is important to note here that the persecution of Trulku 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.

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Lhagma Choedup

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 Trulku 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.”

Trulku’s current medical condition

Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (foreground) and Lobsang Dhondup during December 2002 trial

After months of incommunicado detention, when he first made his court appearance in December 2002, Trulku Tenzin Delek had lost weight and he walked into the courtroom with two police officers holding him. In 2010, exile Tibetan organisations reported that Trulku Tenzin Delek was suffering from a heart condition and high blood pressure for which he was not receiving proper medical attention. During one of the prison visits, Trulku told his relatives that he once fell down unconscious, which indicates that his heart condition had gotten worse. In 2011, during another prison visit, Trulku was seen using a walking stick to support himself raising concerns among family and friends that something was wrong with his leg.

On 14 August 2012, during the last prison visit, relatives found Trulku already seated in his chair on the other side of the glass window waiting. Relatives say it is unusual for Trulku to come before them and that usually they would always arrive earlier and wait for Trulku. When the meeting was over, relatives waited for Trulku to leave, as he usually did, but Trulku asked them to leave first making the relatives suspicious that something was wrong with Trulku’s leg. When the relatives insisted, Trulku refused to budge from his seat. This unusual meeting with Trulku has raised concerns over Trulku’s medical condition among hundreds of thousands of his followers and disciples.

TCHRD calls on the Chinese government to release Trulku Tenzin Delek on medical parole as a first step toward a future retrial. TCHRD maintains that both Trulku and Lobsang Dhondup were falsely charged and their basic human rights were denied during the entire process from detention to sentencing, and in the case of Lobsang Dhondup, immediate execution. Both were secretly detained for seven months before their appearance at a court trial. Trulku was denied access to attorneys or to private visitors during the entire duration of his detention, thereby confirming allegations of torture. The continued imprisonment of Trulku on politicised charges despite repeated appeals from his followers and disciples for his release is tantamount to violating the right to religious freedom and beliefs of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans.

More than 30,000 Tibetans in Nyagchu County signed the petition in 2009
More than 30,000 Tibetans in Nyagchu County signed the petition in 2009

Background Information

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, Trulku 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, Trulku was constantly under surveillance for alleged political activities and connections with the Dalai Lama. Until his arrest on 7 April 2002, Trulku was active in social welfare activities in Lithang County.

Between 1991 and 1997, Trulku Tenzin Delek 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.

Trulku was very popular among the local people as significant portion of them trusted Trulku Tenzin Delek 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.

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