Save Trulku Tenzin Delek from Execution: TCHRD Briefing Paper

This briefing paper contains a brochure containing a summarized version of background information on Trulku Tenzin Delek, his arrest and death sentence, court trial, and imprisonment with recommendations for further actions. The execution verdict of Trulku Tenzin Delek will be confirmed by 25 January 2005 if his death sentence with a two-year reprieve is not reversed.

Trulku Tenzin Delek is a popular religious figure from Sichuan Province in eastern Tibet. On 2 December 2002, Kardze Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Trulku Tenzin Delek and his disciple, Lobsang Dhondup, to death for “causing explosions” and “inciting separatism”. Trulku was sentenced to death with two years’ suspension and deprivation of political rights for life while Lobsang Dhondup was given immediate death penalty and lifelong deprivation of political rights.

The arrest and trial of Trulku Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dhondup exemplify China’s disregard for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans and violation of international law as well as domestic laws — the arbitrary nature of their arrests, lack of adequate and concrete evidence for a conviction, absence of the presumption of innocence, use of coercive interrogation and torture on the detainees, denial of visitation rights and right to be informed for the detainee’s family, denial of adequate and fair legal defense for detainees, closed and unfair trial, arbitrary arrest and sentencing of relatives, and swift execution of Lobsang Dhondup thereby impairing chances of Trulku’s fair retrial. The conflicting media reports of the bomb blast incident only substantiate the contrived nature of the allegations made by Chinese authorities on the case.

The court trial of Trulku Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dhondup was closed and court officials further denied Trulku Tenzin Delek his right to an attorney to represent him. The trial has prompted an international outcry regarding China’s fair trial standard. Chinese authorities have failed to provide any information on evidence for convictions, the manner in which such evidence was obtained, and what if any evidentiary link exists between the explosions and Lobsang Dhondup or Trulku Tenzin Delek and their so-called conspiracy.

Despite appeals made to the Sichuan Higher People’s Court for reversal of the death sentence, the court upheld the earlier verdict and executed Lobsang Dhondup on 26 January 2003. This verdict is in breach of China’s Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law which stipulates that only the Supreme People’s Court may exercise death penalty review and approval authority. Article 48 of the Criminal Law provides that “Except for judgments made by the Supreme People’s Court, according to law, all sentences of death shall be submitted to Supreme People’s Court for approval. Sentences of death with a suspension of two years may be decided or approved by high People’s Court”. Article 199 of the Criminal Procedure Law guarantees that “ the death sentences are to be approved by Supreme People’s Court” and its article 202 provides for the review of death sentence cases by Supreme People’s Court and review of death sentence cases with a suspension of two years by a higher people’s court to be conducted by a collegial panel composed of three judges”.

Just as China’s legal provision and definition of terms such as “state secrets” and “endangering state security” are ambiguous, so does one find contradiction within China’s law on death penalty review and approval. The stipulation under the Organic Law of the Supreme People’s Court that the death penalty review and approval authority may be delegated to the Provincial Higher Court directly contravenes the provisions under Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law. On the one hand, the Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure law were passed by the National People’s Congress and are the basic laws of the nation. On the other hand, the Organic Law of the Supreme People’s Court was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and is just an ordinary law of the nation. According to a Professor from Beijing University, “The force of the latter law is less than the former. It is without a doubt an unconstitutional behavior for an ordinary law to contravene basic law”.

In a response given by China’s Foreign Ministry to an official European Union (EU) demarche over Trulku Tenzin Delek’s case, the German Foreign Ministry was informed that Trulku is “being held in Chuondong Prison in Dazu district in eastern Sichuan Province and is in good health”. The Chinese Foreign Ministry further indicated that his suspended death sentence would be “calculated from the day the judgment became final and could be commuted to a lesser sentence”. As the death sentence verdicts were upheld on 26 January 2003, the two-year suspension period of Trulku Tenzin Delek will expire by 25 January 2005. Article 51 of China’s Criminal Law stipulates that a death sentence could be commuted to life in prison “if no intentional crime during the period of suspension” is undertaken by the prisoner and “if major meritorious service is truly performed, the punishment shall be commuted to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 15 years, but not more than 20 years”.

Beijing authorities fear a nexus between the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism with that of political activism in Tibet. In that context, Beijing has employed every effort to transform Tibetans’ hearts and minds that have been met with stubborn resistance and defiance for decades.  China’s ploys to exterminate Tibetan Buddhism and later on the influence of the Dalai Lama have ranged from the virtual extinction of Tibet’s religious institutions between 1949 and 1979 to the “patriotic re-education” campaign launched since 1996, the Dalai Lama vilification crusade endorsed officially since 1994 to targeting influential religious figures within Tibet such as Trulku Tenzin Delek, late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, recently released Geshe Sonam Phuntsok, Chadrel Rinpoche and XIth Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

In the wake of China’s fear over the Dalai Lama’s alleged influence in inspiring nationalism amongst Tibetan Buddhists, popular religious figures inside Tibet have now come under close scrutiny and suspicion over recent years.  Several of Tibet’s leading lamas have faced insurmountable obstacles and persecution from the Chinese authorities over their alleged links to “splittist” activities and their loyalty to the Dalai Lama. The arrest and sentencing of Trulku Tenzin Delek suggest that charismatic and influential religious leaders in Tibet are perceived as a threat to the authorities — due to their ability to gain respect and trust among the population.

It is widely believed that Trulku Tenzin Delek is framed with false allegations of involvement in bombing incidents. Trulku is a staunch activist in the revival and restoration of Tibetan culture and religion and was actively engaged in social welfare activities. Trulku’s rising popularity for his outspoken allegiance to the Dalai Lama and his numerous community services — construction of seven monasteries, an old people’s home, and an orphanage school in Nagchuka County (Ch: Yaijing Xian) in present-day Sichuan — started to trigger China’s concern over “national stability”.  Trulku had also reportedly supported the Dalai Lama’s candidate to be the Panchen Lama.

In light of all the evidence that TCHRD has received, the Centre strongly believes that Trulku Tenzin Delek is innocent and deserves to be freed from execution, life imprisonment, and prison term. As a human rights organization, TCHRD condemns the death penalty on the grounds that it constitutes ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and violates the right to life. Trulku Tenzin Delek’s trial is unfair and unjust from the legal perspective as well as from the point of failure to produce any evidence to impose such a severe sentence. Therefore TCHRD strongly urges the Beijing authorities to free Trulku Tenzin Delek from execution and life imprisonment and to release him unconditionally or else grant him a fair retrial with proper legal access and defense.

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