Update, August 4, 2015

News reached ICT that Dolkar Lhamo and her daughter Nyima were released from custody after being held for nearly 15 days without charge and allowed to go home on July 31st.

  • There are fears for the safety of the sister of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Dolkar Lhamo, and her daughter, who are still being held by police following his cremation at a remote detention facility in his 13th year of imprisonment. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a revered religious teacher convicted on false ‘bombing’ charges, was one of the most prominent Tibetan political prisoners, and a number of governments urged the Chinese authorities to grant him medical parole.
  • Police acting on orders of higher authorities have seized the ashes of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche from Tibetan lamas who were carrying them back to his home monastery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) after his cremation at a high-security detention facility where he apparently died.
  • There is a deepening crackdown in Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s home area, with the deployment of increased numbers of troops.
  • The hardline position being taken by the Communist Party authorities is evident in a state media article published in China Daily on July 20 (2015) entitled ‘Separatist leader’s death not worthy of lament’.[1] After a week’s delay, the Chinese authorities announced that the cause of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death was ‘sudden cardiac death’, according to a statement issued by Xinhua on July 18, 2015.

The current whereabouts of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sister, Dolkar Lhamo, and her daughter Nyima Lhamo, is not known after they were taken into custody on July 17, a week after she received the news of her brother’s death in prison. Dolkar Lhamo, 52, had issued a measured appeal letter to the prison authorities requesting them to allow his body to be returned home.[2]

Dolkar Lhamo was among a group of lamas, monks and relatives who were taken to a high-security remote location on July 16 to view Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body after his death.[3] Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was cremated in a yard behind the main complex, surrounded by tight security. A group of four monks and relatives were allowed to attend the cremation, and were given the ashes to take back to his monastery, Uthak monastery in Nyagchuka, (Chinese: Yajiang) county in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Kham).

Dolkar Lhamo returned to Chengdu with other relatives to stay overnight in the Tibetan area of the city, the provincial capital of Sichuan, prior to return to her brother’s home area for prayer ceremonies. But on July 17 she was detained by police together with her daughter Nyima Lhamo. According to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s relatives, police assured family and friends that the two women were only going to be questioned, and that they would be returned safely home. There is still no information about their whereabouts or safety.

In the meantime, a group of four Tibetans from Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s home area had begun the journey back to his monastery, with his ashes. The group who had been at the cremation consisted of a senior lama, the acting abbot of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s monastery, and two relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. After they arrived in Chaksamkha (Chinese: Luding) in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, police raided their hotel and seized the ashes, according to Tibetan sources in exile.

In response to appeals about the importance of their protection, police also threatened to throw the ashes in the river that runs through the town.[4]

One of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s relatives in exile said: “Of course they did not want to hand the ashes over, but they were compelled to do so, apparently at gunpoint, even though they reiterated their wish that it is a local tradition, please allow us to keep these. The police said they were enforcing orders from higher authorities.”

According to further information from the area conveyed by Tibetans in exile, in Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s home area of Nyagchuka there has been a dramatic buildup of paramilitary troops and there are fears that tensions could escalate due to the authorities’ harsh approach. One of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s relatives, Geshe Nyima, who is based in India, described it as being “like a military zone”.

On July 17, police broke up a religious prayer ceremony at Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s monastery, forcing local people to leave, according to relatives in exile. The next day, on July 18, the local authorities in Lithang (Chinese: Litang) county town enforced the closure of one of the prayer halls where local people were lighting butter-lamps in his memory.

The outpouring of grief about Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, which follows prayer ceremonies, vigils and protests over years of his imprisonment, demonstrates the influence and popularity of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche – among both the Tibetan community and many Chinese Buddhists – and what he represented to the Tibetan people. Before his detention in 2002, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche founded schools for nomad children, set up elderly people’s homes, worked with local officials to protect forests and was well-known for his efforts to preserve Tibetan culture.

Further information has emerged on the attempts of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family to visit him in prison prior to his death. Through the 13 years of the life sentence he served, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family were able to visit him a total of six times, the most recent being on November 6, 2013. On this visit, the family were able to ascertain that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was suffering from very poor health, including a possible heart condition, frequent unconsciousness and uncontrollable shaking of parts of his body.

Following numerous requests by the family to visit him in 2014 and this year, the authorities told the family that they would be able to visit him in June. This did not happen, and the authorities then said it would be in early July. A relative of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche said that his two sisters arrived in Chengdu for the visit in early July, and then had to wait as permission was refused again. On the morning of July 12, according to the same source, they were told that the visit was not yet confirmed and they would have to wait again. By the evening they had received news that he was dead.

[1] Chinese state media link: http://eng.tibet.cn/2012sy/xw/201507/t20150720_3576631.html

[2] The appeal letter stated: “The body of the deceased cannot be taken home. We suspect the cause of death has some connection to the prison. Please tell us clearly, which legal article states that the body of the deceased cannot be returned home.” ICT report, July 16, 2015, https://savetibet.org/body-of-revered-tibetan-lama-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-cremated-in-remote-high-security-prison-facility/

[3] Geshe Nyima, a relative of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who lives in exile in India, said: “Several monks were led into a cell where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body was in a bed. He was wearing prison uniform. The monks washed the body and dressed him in monks’ robes, and carried out prayers until around 6 am this morning (July 16). Then around 30 family members including his two sisters were allowed to visit the small room for prayers.” ICT report, July 16, 2015, https://savetibet.org/body-of-revered-tibetan-lama-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-cremated-in-remote-high-security-prison-facility/

[4] Luding is an important location of political significance to the Chinese Communist Party, and known as the gateway from Sichuan to Tibetan areas of the PRC. In 1935, during the Long March, soldiers of the Fourth Regiment of the Chinese Workers and Peasants’ Army secured the bridge as a river crossing vital to the Red Army. The bridge is protected as a national ‘key cultural relic’.