DHARAMSHALA: Thousands of Tibetans overcome with grief and shock took to the streets on Monday to peacefully express their emotions over the untimely death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan spiritual teacher in a Chinese prison.
Chinese police responded to the demonstration by opening fire and throwing teargas shells to disperse the crowd of anguished Tibetans, resulting in at least 15 Tibetans receiving serious gunshot injuries, which include five elderly Tibetans above the ages of 60.
The demonstrations took place in Nyachuka County in Karze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (incorporated into China’s Sichuan province). The demonstrators have gathered to demand the return of Rinpoche’s body to his family members and disciples in Nyachuka.
Following the demonstration, a large number of security forces have been deployed in the area and the road to and from Lithang and Nyachuka was blocked to restrict movement.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, died under mysterious circumstances on Sunday, 12 July, while serving a life sentence in Chuandong prison in the southwestern Chinese Provincial city of Chengdu. Chinese prison authorities notified Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sisters of his death on Sunday, however, they have refused to elaborate on the circumstances which led to his death.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was a highly respected Tibetan spiritual figure and one of the most prominent Tibetan political prisoners. He was widely popular among Tibetans for his efforts to protect the degradation Tibetan culture and religion from the onslaught of repressive Chinese policies. He was also known for his efforts to safeguard Tibet’s fragile environment by advocating against illegal mining and pollution of river waters in Tibet.
As a result of his growing popularity and staunch loyalty to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he was arrested in April 2002 after Chinese authorities wrongly accused of being involved in a bomb blast. He was subsequently sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on 2 December 2002 even though Rinpoche maintained innocence in the allegations.
Rinpoche’s death sentence was however commuted to life imprisonment on 24 January following massive campaigns by Tibetans in exile and appeals from international human rights organisations for his release.