Death of Tibetan lama in prison: Family members released from detention but banned from contacting outsiders

Death of Tibetan lama in prison: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
Death of Tibetan lama in prison: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Chinese authorities have failed to launch an investigation into the death in detention case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly-revered and popular Tibetan reincarnate lama and a social activist, who died last month in the 13th year of his life imprisonment at Chuangdong Prison near Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.

Instead, Rinpoche’s family members, his sister Dolkar Lhamo and his niece Nyima Lhamo, were arbitrarily detained on 17 July from a restaurant in Chengdu after Dolkar Lhamo submitted a petition calling for an investigation into the death of Rinpoche, following peaceful protests by followers of Rinpoche and other local Tibetans in Rinpoche’s hometown in Nyagchukha (Ch: Yajiang) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and outside Chuangdong Prison in Sichuan Province.

New information received by TCHRD confirms that Dolkar Lhamo, age 52, and Nyima Lhamo, age 25, were kept in secret detention for about two weeks, released on 30 July and returned to their hometown in Nyagchukha. There is no information on their current physical and psychological condition. No charges were filed against them. However, family and friends living outside Tibet fear that both women had been subjected to beatings, intimidation and possibly torture during the almost two-week detention.

Following their release, local authorities have barred family members of Rinpoche from contacting those relatives who live outside Tibet. Local authorities have collected mobile phone numbers of Dolkar Lhamo, Nyima Lhamo and other family members, and blocked all outgoing calls to and incoming calls from outside Tibet. As of now, Rinpoche’s family members and relatives in Nyagchukha can only communicate among themselves. Local police have also warned them against initiating any gatherings to discuss about the matter.

Restrictions on communication channels have also been imposed in and around Nyagchukha. Chinese troops have also been deployed at Rinpoche’s monasteries to stop lay Tibetans from attending prayers sessions in honour of Rinpoche at these monasteries. Local Tibetans had been attending the prayers sessions in large numbers at these monasteries since the news broke of Rinpoche’s sudden death . But now they have been barred from attending prayers since 17 July. However, monks at the monasteries are allowed to continue with prayers and rituals. Rinpoche had established eight monasteries among which Othok Monastery is the largest with around 400 monks. He also founded a nunnery called Dechen Choeling with about 80 nuns. Bulk of these monasteries is located in Nyagchukha.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death was the result of a series of human rights violations. Even after his death, human rights abuses continue unabated and justice is being denied to him and his family members. An investigation into his death has not been carried out. His family members had been detained without charge and now put under surveillance with their mobile phone communication monitored closely. Peaceful protesters calling for the release of his body had been shot at, beaten up and hospitalised. Lay Tibetans wishing to offer prayers have been barred from doing it in the monasteries and told to stay at home. Even his ashes had been confiscated midway by local police apparently acting under the orders from the Chinese central government.

Soon after the cremation of Rinpoche’s body by prison officials on the morning of 16 July, only four Tibetans were allowed to receive his ashes. The four Tibetans were accompanied by a few police officers on their way to Rinpoche’s hometown. On the same evening when they reached Chaksam (Ch: Luding) County, a group of police officers suddenly arrived on the scene and told them that the Chinese central government had ordered them not to carry forward the ashes. Then they snatched the ashes despite protestations from the Tibetans, who had responded that they received the ashes after a series of requests and appeals made to the prison authorities. The police officers even threatened that they would throw the ashes in the nearby Chaksam Kha river. As of now, the fate of Rinpoche’s ashes remains unknown. It is unknown if the police acted on their threats by disposing off the ashes in the river. Prison authorities had also burned all possessions of Rinpoche leaving nothing, not a shred of a souvenir, for his family.

TCHRD reiterates its call for an independent and impartial investigation into Rinpoche’s death in prison. The government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a legal obligation to carry out the investigation to determine whether the death was caused intentionally or by negligence. TCHRD urges the local Chinese authorities to lift the communication ban on Rinpoche’s family members and ease restrictions on local Tibetans and the monasteries founded by Rinpoche.

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