The US Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent today calling for the release of respected religious teacher Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and other Tibetan political prisoners. Senate Resolution 483 stated that: “The government of the People’s Republic of China is in violation of international human rights standards by detaining and mistreating Tibetans who engage in peaceful activities to protest China’s repression of Tibetans or promote the preservation of a distinct Tibetan identity…The Government of the People’s Republic of China should, as a gesture of goodwill and in order to promote human rights, immediately release all political prisoners, including Tenzin Delek.”

The resolution was initially introduced in May 2004, as Senate Resolution 365 by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), chairman of the East Asia subcommittee, together with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). The passage of the resolution by the Senate this morning follows months of campaign action in the US on behalf of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a senior 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 with a two-year suspension on charges of “causing explosions [and] inciting the separation of the state” in December 2002, and his alleged co-conspirator, Lobsang Dhondup, was executed on January 26, 2003. The Chinese authorities have produced no credible evidence of Tenzin Delek’s crime and he maintains his innocence. His reprieve is due to expire in January 2005.

Tibet supporters sent 8,350 statements on behalf of Tenzin Delek as part of a coordinated US campaign led by ICT to pressure the Chinese government to release Tenzin Delek or provide him with a fair trial. Had the Senate failed to pass this resolution during its brief “lame duck” session this week, they would not have had another opportunity to act on this issue before the two-year reprieve of Tenzin Delek’s death sentence expired.

Kelley Currie, Director of Government Relations for the ICT, said “It is a tribute to both the commitment of ICT’s members and the concern of our supporters in the United States Senate that this resolution passed this morning. Given the fact that Senate’s main agenda this week is passing the bills that fund the entire U.S. government and resolving the controversial intelligence reform bill, it is a real statement that they took the time out of a busy legislative schedule to pass this resolution. I think it clearly indicates that the Congress is very concerned about the case of Tenzin Delek.”

The resolution, as passed today, outlines China’s violations of internationally accepted standards of freedom of belief, expression, and association, and states that: ‘The Government of the PRC continues to exert control over religious and cultural institutions in Tibet, abusing human rights through the torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention without fair or public trial of Tibetans who peacefully express their political or religious views or attempt to preserve the unique Tibetan identity.’ Other co-sponsors of the original resolution, S.Res. 365, included Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhang Qiyue was quoted as saying on December 2, 2004: “As far as I know, relevant departments of justice have reviewed the case of Tenzin Delek and I think in any country for these criminals that jeopardize national security and engage in terrorist bombings, they will meet punishment according to law.” (AFP) According to Chinese law, a prisoner sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve will receive a commutation to life imprisonment unless the prisoner commits another intentional crime during the reprieve, and is tried and convicted for that crime. To date, no reports have emerged suggesting that Tenzin Delek has committed any new crimes during his reprieve, which apparently became effective on January 26, 2003, when the Sichuan Higher People’s Court rejected his appeal.

You can find the full text of the resolution here.