UN official criticises China's political detentions and death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

14th September 2017

UN High Commissioner recalled how Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's 2015 death in prison left people around the world “shocked”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, used his address at the United Nations Human Rights Council this week to mention the treatment of prisoners in China, including the deaths of  Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, Cao Shunlin and Tibetan Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, which he said left the world “shocked”.

Human rights concerns in China

The High Commissioner's remarks were delivered during the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on 11 September 2017. The High Commissioner expressed concerns about the increase of human rights abuses around the world, including China, where he raised ill-treatment in prison and deaths in custody:

The recent death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo shocked many around the world, as did the deaths, also in custody, of Cao Shunli in 2014 and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in 2015.

During his segment on China, High Commissioner al-Hussein also expressed his concerns over the ongoing detention of Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk, who has been detained since January 2016 without trial. The High Commissioner said that Tashi Wangchuk, along with other political prisoners such as Chinese human rights lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, and Liu Xiaobo’s widow Liu Xia had been detained on "questionable grounds, without any independent oversight mechanism."

Free Tibet is aiming to raise awareness of political imprisonment in Tibet, as well as other practices banned under international law such as torture and enforced disappearances, in its new campaign, In The Dark. The High Commissioner closed his remarks on China by highlighting the need for its government to "include a greater focus on vulnerable groups, in particular among the Tibetan, Uyghur and other marginalised populations."

A symbol of resistance

Until his death in 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly-respected senior monk and community leader, was the most high-profile political prisoner in Tibet.

He was arrested in April 2002 and convicted for involvement in a bomb explosion in Chengdu. Despite the lack of evidence against him, he was sentenced to death in December 2002, along with Lobsang  Dhondup.

Lobsang Dhondup was executed on 26 January 2003, despite an appeal, whereas Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sentence was changed to life imprisonment in January 2005.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was held in a prison in Chengdu. Despite his poor health condition, the Chinese authorities refused to grant him medical parole.  He died in custody on 12 July 2015. Prison officials refused to provide a death certificate and release his body, instead,  cremating him, against the wishes of his family.  Chinese authorities refused to provide further explanations of his death, which sparked protests among Tibetans.   

Take action

Many Tibetan political prisoners are held in Chinese jails, some of them in secret locations. The Chinese authorities refuse to reveal any information about their whereabouts or current health condition and prevent them from contacting their relatives.

Help Free Tibet pressure Chinese officials to reveal their location, and push for their release!