Prominent Tibetan religious figure found in emaciated condition in prison

Tulku PhurbuTsering Rinpoche, also known as Pangri-na Rinpoche
Tulku PhurbuTsering Rinpoche, also known as Pangri-na Rinpoche

Trulku Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche (also known as Pangri-na Rinpoche), a highly revered reincarnated lama from Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, has been found recently in serious condition at a prison near Chengdu city, according to information given to TCHRD by a source from inside Tibet.

The source who provided this information to TCHRD said he saw Rinpoche by chance early this month while visiting another prisoner at Mianyang Prison, located about two hours from Chengdu city. “At first I couldn’t recognize him as he had become so weak, almost emaciated,” said the source. “It looks like he is not being treated well in prison.”

The source further told TCHRD that local Tibetans have expressed deep concern and anxiety over Rinpoche’s deteriorating health, which they believe is caused by the severe condition he is subjected to in prison.

Rinpoche came under the surveillance of the Chinese police in May 2008, when he was suspected of having links with a peaceful protest march[i] conducted by more than 80 nuns of Pangri-na Nunnery on 14 May 2008 in Su-ngo Township in Kardze County. The nuns were protesting the implementation of the ‘patriotic education’ campaign at their nunnery. Following the protest, 55 nuns were arrested. Many were severely beaten by the security forces before being bundled away in military trucks.

Four days later, on 18 May 2008, at about 4.30 am (Beijing Standard Time), the Chinese security officers surrounded his residence and arrested Rinpoche without giving any reason. He was 53 at the time. For several months Rinpoche disappeared and nobody knew how he was being treated, where he was being held, or why he had been arrested. At the same time, more than 2000 Chinese security forces launched a crackdown on Ya-tseg Nunnery and Pangri-na Nunnery, subjecting the nuns to severe restrictions and control. Rinpoche was the chief spiritual preceptor and the head of Pangri and Ya-tseg nunneries located in Kardze.

A recent photo of the entrance to Mianyang Prison where Rinpoche is imprisoned. A source who recently met Rinpoche took this photo.
A recent photo of the entrance to Mianyang Prison where Rinpoche is imprisoned. A source who recently met Rinpoche took this photo.

Information about Rinpoche only became available on 23 December 2009, when an Intermediate People’s Court at Dartsedo (Ch: Kangding) County sentenced him to eight years and six months for possession of weapons. However, Li Fangping and Jiang Tianyong, two prominent Chinese civil rights lawyers who defended Rinpoche had said that serious violations of Chinese law occurred during his case and that the charges against him “lack factual clarity and sufficient evidence”. [ii]

Li Fangping told the Associated Press that Rinpoche was framed.[iii] During his disappearance, Rinpoche was reportedly tortured for four days and nights and forced into making a confession during interrogation. Police even threatened his wife and son of detention if Rinpoche did not comply. [iv]

The actual cause of Rinpoche’s imprisonment remains unclear, however, sources inside Tibet say that the arrest may have had to do with Rinpoche’s unwavering faith in the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, India.

“Chinese authorities accused Rinpoche of indulging in separatist activities, when he led the monks and nuns of Yatseg Nunnery and Pangri-na Nunnery organize a life-long prayer ceremony (Tib: Tenshug) for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2002. The nuns moreover opposed the ‘patriotic education’ campaigns conducted in their nunnery, refusing to sign on the documents condemning His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” said the source.

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche was born on 2 January 1957 to Tsewang Dargye and Yangchen Lhamo at Chigring Village of Serkhar Township in Kardze County, the area known to Tibetans as Kham Tehor. He is the patron of Pangri-na and Yatseg nunneries, which house 100 and 60 nuns respectively. Rinpoche was also engaged in charity works such as building old people’s homes and hospitals for local Tibetan population in Karze. His unwavering faith in the Dalai Lama coupled with his charity work earned him much appreciation and praise from the local Tibetan community.

TCHRD calls upon the Special Rapporteur on torture, and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to investigate the causes of Rinpoche’s detention and his subsequent treatment. Furthermore, TCHRD urges the Special Rapporteurs and Working Group to raise the arbitrary detention of Rinpoche for his religious beliefs and his torture with the Chinese government.


[i] China arrests a popular religious figure in Kardze County, 19 May 2008, TCHRD,

[ii] Verdict on Tibetan lama deferred: Chinese lawyers’ statement on charges against Phurbu Rinpoche, 27 April 2009, International Campaign for Tibet,

[iii] Tibetan lama on trial for weapons charge in China, 21 April 2009, Fox News,,4675,ASChinaTibet,00.html

[iv] TCHRD Condemns the China framing of Tulku Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche on weapon charges, 23 April 2009, TCHRD

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