Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

The controversial death sentence of religious leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, imprisoned on charges of inciting seperatism, has been commuted to life imprisonment, Xinhua reported today (January 26).

“This case has not yet been resolved justly. The International Campaign for Tibet calls for the immediate release of Tenzin Delek and urges governments to continue to explicitly raise his case and that of other Tibetan political prisoners with the Chinese authorities,” said Mary Beth Markey, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (Chinese: A’an Zhaxi) is a popular lama whose influence in his local community and activities preserving Tibetan culture and religion led him to become a political target of the Chinese authorities. He was sentenced to death in December 2002 together with another Tibetan, Lobsang Dondrub (Chinese: Luorang Dengzhu) after a closed trial on charges of causing a series of explosions and inciting separatism. Lobsang Dondrub was executed on January 26, 2003 despite assurances to senior US government officials that the authorities would not take any action until the Supreme People’s Court had reviewed his and Tenzin Delek’s cases.

The two-year reprieve of Tenzin Delek’s death sentence, which sparked a major campaign by the International Campaign for Tibet and other human rights groups, expired today. According to Chinese law, a prisoner sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve will receive a commutation to a prison sentence unless the prisoner commits another intentional crime during the reprieve, and is tried and convicted for that crime.

Both Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dondrub were denied access to visitors and legal counsel and were subjected to coercive methods of interrogation including beating and torture. During Tenzin Delek’s sentencing, he declared the trial unfair, rejected all charges against him, and proclaimed his innocence before being removed from the court.

An eyewitness who saw Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in prison several weeks ago reported that he looked “frail”. A report by Xinhua on December 30, 2004 stated that Tenzin Delek suffered from coronary heart disease and high blood pressure before he was detained, and that he has been receiving medication and quarterly checkups while in prison. But today’s Xinhua report made no mention of Tenzin Delek’s health, merely stating that: “He is currently serving his term in a local Sichuan jail, where he is fairly and well treated.”

“The Chinese authorities have chosen not to execute Tenzin Delek, but a life sentence for any Tibetan political prisoner could be a death sentence,” continued Markey. Based on documented information available from the Tibet Information Network, Tibetan political prisoners are at grave risk of not surviving the consequences of imprisonment.

Tenzin Delek’s appeal against the death sentence is likely to have been seriously hampered by his inability to use his own legal counsel. Two Chinese lawyers, Zhang Sizhi, who had defended dissidents of the Democracy Wall (1979-81) and June 4, 1989 pro-democracy movements, and Li Huigeng, who had previously worked with Zhang, were willing to represent Tenzin Delek at his appeal. But in December 2002, they were told that Tenzin Delek had already engaged a lawyer from the local area. A later report by the official Chinese news agency stated that the Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) area lawyers, allegedly chosen by the defendant, represented him at both trial and appeal. As Tenzin Delek was held incommunicado during the period of his detention throughout the trial and appeal processes, it is impossible to know whether this was the case.

In December 2002, PRC authorities had assured a US government delegation headed by Lorne Craner, then Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, that the Supreme People’s Court would undertake a “lengthy” judicial review of Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dondrub’s cases, but they failed to fulfill this commitment. Instead PRC authorities executed Lobsang Dondrub a few hours after his death sentence was approved by a session of the Sichuan Province Higher People’s Court.

Protests and vigils in support of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche have been held all over the world since his detention. On December 7, 2004 the US Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent calling for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and other Tibetan political prisoners. The European Parliament adopted a joint resolution on January 14 calling for the Chinese government to “immediately commute the death sentence handed down to Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche.” The resolution was supported by 99 of the 108 attending parliamentarians.

ICT’s “Wall of Hope” campaign allowed tens of thousands of concerned citizens to display their messages of support for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche throughout Europe, including in Geneva during the 2004 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.