WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02), a senior House Democrat and Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, released the following statement on the death of Tibetan activist Tenzin Delek Rinpoche:

“Last week I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of the well-known Tibetan monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Tenzin Delek was serving a life sentence under very harsh conditions for allegedly ‘causing explosions’ and ‘inciting separatism,’ charges against which he steadfastly maintained his innocence. Just last April, I had written to the U.S. State Department to encourage our government officials to prioritize Tenzin Delek’s release on medical parole, because he was reported to be suffering from serious health problems. In late June, the State Department assured me the message had been transmitted, but now we see that China turned a callous blind eye to my pleas and those of many others. The Chinese authorities bear direct responsibility for Tenzin Delek’s unnecessary death.

“But the barbarity of the story does not end there. Tenzin Delek’s family asked the Chinese government to return his body to them, so that they could carry out funeral rites in accordance with Tibetan tradition. This very basic, very human request was supported by Tibetan religious leaders and many others around the world. Instead, Chinese authorities cremated the body at a secret prison outside Chengdu, returning only ashes to his distraught family and community. The authorities’ only humane gesture, which was minimal and under pressure, was to permit several monks and family members, including two sisters, to view the body before the cremation. The monks were able to wash and dress the body, and carry out prayers, as was the family. But let me be clear: the authorities’ actions after Tenzin Delek’s death display the same utter contempt for their own laws, and for religious traditions, that characterized their treatment of this spiritual leader during his life.

“We do not know the cause of Tenzin Delek’s death. He died while family members were waiting to see him, in what would have been only his second family visit in 13 years. His sisters, after seeing the body, report that his lips and fingernails had turned black; they believe he was murdered. At a minimum, it was the height of cruelty to have allowed a prisoner who was tortured, suffering from medical problems, and had been denied medical treatment, to die in prison.

“I do not believe that we can expect the Chinese government to tell the world the truth about Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death. For this reason, today I am calling for an immediate independent international investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death, with the participation of forensic and human rights experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I also call on the Chinese government to allow a visit and investigation by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, in light of the allegations of torture against Tenzin Delek, and China’s upcoming review this fall under the Convention Against Torture.

“Frankly, these independent investigations would be in China’s best interests. Given their treatment of the man before his death, and of his body afterwards, authorities’ statements have little credibility.

“Tenzin Delek’s death is being felt very strongly in Tibetan communities – we’ve already seen reports of police firing into the air to disperse the crowds that gathered to demand the return of the body to his home in Sichuan. I am concerned for the safety of the members of Tenzin Delek’s family and I have received very disturbing reports that his sister, Dolkar Lhamo, and her daughter, Nyima Lhamo, have been detained by the police. Please be assured that my voice will be heard if they are harmed or their rights are violated in any way.

“My heart goes out to the family of Tenzin Delek, to his religious followers, and to the communities he served. He was an outstanding human being who defended his culture and his people, and paid dearly for it. He will not be forgotten.”