Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche

Local Tibetans gather to pray for Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche in his home area in Kham on October 12, 2014.

  • Images have emerged from Tibet of a gathering of Tibetans in Nyagchuka, the Tibetan area of Kham, to pray for a respected Tibetan lama, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, who is in his 12th year of a life sentence in prison.
  • News of the prayer ceremony follows other initiatives by local people, including the rebuilding of his residence in a monastery, and a major religious ceremony for his long life in June, which was blocked by the authorities.
  • Protests against Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s sentencing and prayer vigils for him have continued for years after his arrest, with Tibetans defying intense security crackdowns to express their distress. The risks that Tibetans in Kham continue to take during a time of crackdown in Tibet are indicative of the influence and popularity of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche – among both the Tibetan community and many Chinese Buddhists – and what he represents. Before his detention in 2002 on trumped-up bombing charges, 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.
  • Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche is believed to be in very poor health in prison, with a liver condition and serious problems with his legs, although full details are not known. Last year, his followers wrote in a petition letter requesting the release of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche that the many years “…of being wrongfully imprisoned have severely ruined Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body and mind, but the tough and unyielding attitude towards him by the local authorities has not changed at all.”[1]

Tibetans in Kham hold prayer ceremonies and protests for imprisoned religious teacher despite dangers

Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche

Local people and monks gather to repair Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s former residence at Nalanda Thekchen Jangchup Choeling Monastery in June, 2014, despite threats by the local authorities.

The new images depict a group of Tibetans in traditional dress holding hands in a circle around a picture of the Dalai Lama and Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche in Nyagchuka (Chinese: Yajiang) county in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Kham) on October 12, 2014.

Tibetan sources in exile said that at the ceremony, in the home area of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche: “Tibetans offered traditional white khatags (greeting scarves) on a stage during a ceremony and prayed for his return to the region from prison, to a large picture of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche and of a Lama that appears to be the Dalai Lama.”

An India-based Tibetan monk called Loga, citing local contacts, said: “Remembering Rinpoche’s kindness toward the people, many of the participants broke down in tears when speakers at the gathering described how Rinpoche had been wrongfully accused and sentenced.” (Radio Free Asia, October 14, 2014).

The ceremony followed a major religious ceremony organized by the Nalanda Thekchen Jangchup Choeling monastery, which was built by Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche in Khola Township, Nyagchuka County, in June. Many Tibetan lamas, monks and local people joined the ceremony on June 2, which was scheduled to last several days, but it was broken up by the local authorities on the first day and prevented from continuing. Following its cancellation, monks and local people then sought to rebuild the residence where Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche had lived some years before at the monastery; since his imprisonment it had fallen into disrepair. According to Tibetan sources, more than 100 local people began work on reconstructing the building, according to Tibetan exiles in contact with people in the area.

A Tibetan source said: “Rebuilding the residence was a way of showing the authorities that the repression in the area does not prevent the people retaining their spiritual faith and allegiance to their leader, and does not mean they accept the unjust sentencing of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche.”

Imprisoned in December 2002, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche (Chinese rendering of his lay name: A’an Zhaxi) was convicted amid concerns he had been tortured to extort a confession and following a trial that was condemned around the world for falling far short of minimum fair trial standards. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment following a statutory two-year period of suspension, but his co-defendant, Lobsang Dhondup, was executed in early 2003 moments after his appeal was rejected.[2]

The prayer ceremony in Nyagchuka on October 12 was the latest in a series of bold representations to the authorities in support of the Tibetan lama over several years. Not only Tibetans have been involved; over the years of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s imprisonment, many Chinese Buddhists have joined vigils and long life prayers for him.

Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser wrote in a blog: “The hardship he [Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche] is currently enduring in prison engulfs the hearts of the people of this vast area; they feel a deep, hard-to-overcome pain. Over the course of the past 12 years, almost no joyous festivals have been held, and many elder left this world with tears in their eyes, knowing that they would never meet him again. Over the course of the past 12 years, over 30,000 Tibetans signed and left their fingerprints on countless petitions, sending representatives to Chengdu and even Beijing to appeal to the higher authorities, expressing that ‘we can no longer bear Tenzin Delek Rinpoche being imprisoned, his so-called “bombing case” needs to be reviewed’, many Tibetans were arrested, beaten and sentenced for these efforts; but they have not given up, they have been sharing the pain and humiliation with their teacher.”[3]

Tsering Woeser also said that in March the Secretary of Lithang County Party Committee warned Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s younger sister that she was not allowed to go to Chengdu to visit her brother, and even if she arranged a lawyer to review the case, she must only follow the orders of the local authorities, otherwise she and her family would also be arrested.

Towards the end of November 2009, a group of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s relatives and friends traveled to Beijing to request the central government for a further review of the case. It is not known how the authorities responded to this appeal. A further Tibetan source states that having been assured by officials in Beijing that the case would be looked at, the petitioners were urged to return to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan. A government official confirmed that petitioners had been to Beijing and Chengdu to appeal to the authorities, but said that all of them had been “persuaded home” and “no one was detained.” (http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2009-12/490861.html, December 10).

Local people in his home area heard about the visit to Beijing, according to several sources, and decided to take action themselves on Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s behalf. On December 5, 2009, a group of around 90 people, men and women, from various villages in Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche’s home area of Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan began to travel towards Nyagchuka county town in cars and on motorbikes to call for the release of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, according to several Tibetan sources. The Tibetans in the group were stopped at different points on the way, although some were able to reach the office of the county government building in Nyagchuka itself.

A Tibetan source with contacts in the area said: “They [the Tibetans] told officials that without the presence of Tulku [a reincarnate lama] Tenzin Deleg, there were more thieves, trouble makers, hunters and alcoholics in their region and it was going downhill. Without him, there was nothing the government could do to improve the situation, and so he should be released. When many of these people made their request on bended knees and with their palms joined, the officials said that it would be alright to give them permission to visit Tulku [Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche]. At that, the older people said that that was fine and made ready to return home, but the young people lay down blocking the main road, saying that if they were to be permitted to visit, they should be allowed to go that very day, because they did not believe the promise would be honored if deferred. They said that their Lama was innocent, that he had been falsely accused, that if the government had any proof that he was involved in a bombing, they should produce it. After that, many police came and beat them severely, many people were seriously injured, and the ground turned red with blood. Five people had broken arms and legs, and many of their motorcycles were trashed. They were 56-year old Lhamo Choedrup, Ashar, Dukar Tsering, Dondrup and Jinpa, all from Bardrong. One of them was said to have had his ribs broken.”

In her blog about Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, Tsering Woeser wrote: “No support has ever been more persistent, more loyal and more desperate.”

[1] Blog by Tsering Woeser, posted in Chinese on April 22, 2014, translated into English and posted on High Peaks Pure Earth on October 17, 2014, “Remembering Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Who Has Been Wrongfully Serving A Prison Sentence for 12 Years”, http://highpeakspureearth.com/2014/remembering-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-who-has-been-wrongfully-serving-a-prison-sentence-for-12-years-by-woeser/

[2] Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche was first detained from his monastery in April, 2002. For details on his case see CECC Issue Paper, ‘The Execution of Lobsang Dondrub and the Case Against Tenzin Deleg: The Law, the Courts, and the Debate on Legality’, http://www.cecc.gov/publications/issue-papers/the-execution-of-lobsang-dondrub-and-the-case-against-tenzin-deleg-the-law#6

[3] Blog by Tsering Woeser, posted on October 17, 2014, “Remembering Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Who Has Been Wrongfully Serving A Prison Sentence for 12 Years”, http://highpeakspureearth.com/2014/remembering-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-who-has-been-wrongfully-serving-a-prison-sentence-for-12-years-by-woeser/