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Consortium of 174 Tibet groups appeal to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

July 20, 2015


July 20, 2015

Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

20 July 2015

Dear High Commissioner Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein,

Re: Request for Urgent Action concerning death of Tibetan religious leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

We are writing with further information about the passing of high profile Tibetan political prisoner, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and to ask your office to make efforts to secure an independent investigation into the circumstances of his detention and death. 

Against the wishes of his family, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body was cremated on 16 July in an unidentified high-security detention facility - equipped with a crematorium - where he may have been held prior to his death (previous information indicated he was being held in Chuandong Prison). [1] 

According to an International Campaign for Tibet report [2], his body, still in prison uniform, was in a bed in a cell, his mouth and nails stained black. A relative, Geshe Nyima, said he was told that the conditions in the prison were “despicable” [3]. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sisters were asked to sign a document stating that their brother was in good health at the start of his sentence, but they refused; their refusal resulting in their temporary detention. They were unable to obtain a copy of the death certificate.

In the days since Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death there had been a significant effort by large crowds of supporters to persuade the authorities to release his body, including a peaceful sit-in. On 13 July a number of Tibetans were wounded after troops opened fire on Tibetans gathered in Nyagchuka (Yajiang), Kardze. The internet connection in Lithang and Nyagchuka has been blocked by the authorities. There is now serious concern for the safety of Tibetans seeking to express their grief at Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death.

As we wrote previously Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s case and death is indicative of wider issues regarding incarceration, absence of fair trials, discrimination against the Tibetan population, religious discrimination, and use of torture in China, and particularly Tibet, we believe it is important for you to make a public response concerning his untimely death in detention.

 Given the regrettable fact that Tenzin Delek’s body has now been cremated, we are writing now to request that you take the following actions;

  • Carry out urgent and independent investigation into the circumstances of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death, and seek a response from the Chinese authorities concerning their failure to answer the application made by Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family for medical parole. We further ask your Office to give every support to enable the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom to be able to visit and undertake their own investigations into this case.
  •  Seek your own urgent mission to China and Tibet, as was agreed by China during the last Universal Periodic Review, and use this visit to investigate the conditions of Tibetans in Chinese custody.

 Please see below for details of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s case, as a reminder of what was known about his situation.  

We look forward to hearing from you.

Your sincerely,

Alison Reynolds, Executive Director

International Tibet Network, on behalf of 174 member organisations, see full list at


[1] China’s response to an EU demarche in February 2004: “Mr. Wang Min, Deputy Director General of the Department of International Organisations and Conferences at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche was in good health and being held in Chuandong prison, Sichuan province”.

[2] International Campaign for Tibet, 16 July 2015: ‘Body of revered Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche cremated in remote high-security prison facility’

[2] Students for a Free Tibet, 16 July 2015: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s Body Cremated in Chinese Prison Against Family’s Demands


The Case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche [Chinese: 阿安扎西 Pinyin: A'an Zhaxi]

We believe that the case of Tenzin Delek falls within your mandate. Tenzin Delek was a highly respected Tibetan religious leader and had been a prominent advocate of preserving Tibetan cultural identity. Tenzin Delek was arrested and detained on April 7, 2002. Since then, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit - first under a death sentence, then a life sentence. Tenzin Delek died early in Chinese detention in July 2015. We have good reason to believe that he was innocent of the charges brought against him, and that he suffered as a result of targeted action because he was a prominent Tibetan Buddhist leader who worked to develop Tibetan communities and preserve Tibetan culture. 

Tenzin Delek was arrested in 2002, along with his relative Lobsang Dhondup, near Chengdu, Sichuan Province.  Both men were charged with “crimes of terror and incitement of separatism”, and sentenced to death. Tenzin Delek’s conviction was based on a “confession” obtained under torture by his alleged co-conspirator, Lobsang Dhondup, and no other evidence was offered. Both Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dhondup were denied access to visitors and legal counsel, and were both subjected to coercive methods of interrogation including beating and torture. During the closed trial, Tenzin Delek is reported to have claimed he was tortured and shouted out his support for the Dalai Lama. 

On January 26, 2003 despite assurances by Chinese authorities to senior US Government officials that no action would be taken until the case had been reviewed, Lobsang Dhondup was executed directly after the appeal trial. Tenzin Delek’s death sentence was suspended for two years, and was then commuted to a life sentence. To date, no court documents have been released, shrouding the proceedings in secrecy. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche steadfastly maintained his innocence at all times.

 Originally from Lithang, Kham province, Tenzin Delek committed his life to defending Tibetan identity, religion, culture, and the unique environment of Tibet.  He oversaw the building of Tibetan monasteries and was a strong advocate of religious education for both men and women.  Tenzin Delek worked to stop indiscriminate logging and mining projects in eastern Tibet.  The Chinese authorities viewed Tenzin Delek’s subsequent popularity amongst both Tibetans and Chinese as a threat to their control in the region.  Prior to his detention in 2002, Tenzin Delek was the subject of increasing harassment and intimidation by Chinese officials as a result of his activism.  

 Human Rights Watch reported that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s imprisonment “was the culmination of a decade-long effort by the Chinese authorities to curb his efforts to foster Tibetan Buddhism, his support for the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, and his work to develop Tibetan social and cultural institutions. His efforts had become a focal point for Tibetans struggling to retain their cultural identity in the face of China’s restrictive policies and its continuing persecution of individuals attempting to push the accepted boundaries of cultural and social expression.”

 Recent news received had highlighted that Tenzin Delek was in very poor health, with a heart condition, high blood pressure, and other serious medical issues; medical parole was applied for by his family in 2014 but they had received no response.

We ask again that you take action as a result of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death in custody. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you would like any further information or clarification.

 We have also communicated with Mr. Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, whom we had already been in recent communication with about Tenzin Delek’s case when he was alive, and Mr. Heinfeld Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedoms, whom you may also wish to consult.

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