Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, the influential and popular Tibetan lama who was one of Tibet’s most well-known political prisoners, died on July 12 in his 13th year of a life sentence in prison.
Around a thousand monks and local people gathered near his monastery in his home area of Nyagchuka (Chinese: Yajiang) in Kham to urge the local authorities to negotiate with the Sichuan Provincial Prison Management Bureau over returning the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family and monastic community. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is believed to have passed away in Chuandong Prison, Chengdu, Sichuan, where he was being held, although the authorities have not provided information on the circumstances of his death.
According to relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in exile, local monks and laypeople selected a group of representatives to speak to the township government. Not only did the local authorities refuse to speak to them, but the Tibetans who sought to engage in dialogue were beaten ‘with brutality’, according to one of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s relatives, who is in exile in India.
This triggered an angry response from local monks and townspeople, who then “stormed the township government building”, the Tibetan sources said.
In the ensuing crackdown, armed police were deployed and fired tear-gas. While it is not known if live ammunition was used, and one report said that gunfire was aimed ‘over the crowd’, the same Tibetan sources reported that an elderly woman was shot in the leg and is currently in hospital. Details of the incident were difficult to confirm due to restrictions on information flow in the area.
The Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) prefectural government deployed more paramilitary troops and blocked the major road between Lithang (Chinese: Litang) county and Nyagchuka County, which is in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. This was likely to be in order to prevent Tibetans from Lithang, where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was also revered, from joining Tibetans in his home area.
According to the same Tibetan sources, the Kardze authorities invited senior religious leaders to help to calm the situation. As a result it has been agreed that a group of monks will seek to go to the prison management offices and to see Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body. It is not known if this access will be allowed. One of the sisters of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is believed to have remained outside the gate of the Prison Management Bureau in Dazhu county as a protest since she and the family were informed of her brother’s death.