Body of revered Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche cremated in remote high-security prison facility

  • The body of revered Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was cremated today (July 16) amid high security at a remote detention facility where he died in his 13th year of a life sentence. His ashes are being taken back to his home county and monastery by his sisters and other relatives, according to his relatives in exile, where prayer ceremonies are expected to be held.
  • When the authorities refused to allow the body to be returned to his family for traditional prayer ceremonies, it was negotiated for some members of his family to visit the body late last night. They were taken to a high-security detention facility in an isolated area several kilometers from Chengdu – not Chuandong Prison where they had thought he was being held. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body, still in prison uniform, was in a bed in a cell. According to the same sources, his mouth and nails were stained black, and details of the circumstances of his death are still not clear.
  • Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family had urged the authorities not to rush a cremation, citing a provision in Chinese law that allows families to appeal against hasty cremations of prisoners.[1] In an appeal letter they have written to the authorities, translated in full into English below, one of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sisters said: “2. The body of the deceased cannot be taken home. We suspect the cause of death has some connection to the Prison. Please tell us clearly, which legal article states that the body of the deceased cannot be returned home.”[2]

Dolkar

Dolkar, sister of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, asking the Chinese authorities to postpone his cremation. Photo from Tsering Woeser’s Facebook page.

Relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in exile in India said that in the past two days many local people, family members and monks from Lithang (Chinese: Litang) and Nyagchuka in Sichuan, the Rinpoche’s home area, had arrived at Chuandong Prison, together with some officials from the area. They sought to liaise with the Prison Management Bureau officials and Chuandong Prison officials over the return of the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his monastery and family; in Tibetan culture it is important that the body is accorded proper respect and prayer rituals, particularly in the case of a much-loved religious teacher.

Prison officials consistently refused, but upon the advice of some officials, the family finally requested at least to be able to visit the body and carry out some prayers, and the authorities acquiesced.

According to the same sources, a group of monks and family were taken by vehicle to an area away from Chuandong Prison, where they arrived at a high-security facility in a remote location which they could not identify, with no sign above the gate.

Geshe Nyima, a relative of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who lives in exile in India, said: “Several monks were led into a cell where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body was in a bed. He was wearing prison uniform. The monks washed the body and dressed him in monks’ robes, and carried out prayers until around 6 am this morning (July 16). Then around 30 family members including his two sisters were allowed to visit the small room for prayers.”

Geshe Nyima said the detention facility was equipped with a crematorium in a yard behind the main complex. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s cremation was carried out here, in an atmosphere of tight security with armed guards and police, both plain-clothed and in uniform.

He said: “The building was equipped with machinery for electric cremation. The body was put into a steel box and what emerged was ashes which was handed to the family and monks. The family is now carrying these ashes to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s monastery in Nyagchuka county.”

The new information about Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body raises questions about where he was held during his imprisonment. When his family were allowed to visit him in November, 2013 – the sole family visit of the entire 13 years he was imprisoned – he was in Chuandong Prison. But it is possible that he was transferred there for the visit, and that he may have been held for most of his sentence, as a high-profile political prisoner, at the unknown location where he was cremated.

Yesterday there was a peaceful sit-in by Tibetans outside Chuandong Prison calling for his body to be returned to the family.[3] Several Tibetans were wounded on Monday (July 13) after troops opened fire on Tibetans calling for his body to be returned in his home area of Nyagchuka (Chinese: Yajiang) Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, the Tibetan area of Kham.[4]

Communications from the Tibetan areas of Lithang and Nyagchuka have been blocked by the authorities, with internet connection shut down. There is now serious concern for the safety of Tibetans seeking to express their grief at Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death.

Translation into English by ICT of appeal by Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family

Application for New Decision

The following is our request to the Prison in relation to the death of A’an Zhaxi[5]:

  1. Today the prison authorities read us many documents of certification of death.[6] We requested a copy of the documents that were read. They first said yes. The name of the person was Secretary Huang. But in the afternoon they told us they cannot give the copies of the documents.
  2. The body of the deceased cannot be taken home. We suspect the cause of death has some connection to the prison. Please tell us clearly, which legal article states that the body of the deceased cannot be returned home.
  3. If the prison authorities cannot explain clearly the reasons for the death, then we will urge journalists and relevant personnel to conduct a thorough investigation. If we are allowed to take the deceased body home then we will not follow up on this. This is wish of the family, relatives and students.
  4. At the time of death of the deceased, the prison staff knew that we were waiting in Chengdu. Under this circumstance, why did they not inform us at the first instance? Furthermore, the time of death provided by the prison is inconsistent. According to one version, it was 2 o’clock and another was 4 o’clock.
  5. The prison authorities told us if we don’t come to see the deceased body, then they will cremate the body within a scheduled time. Is there any law that states that the deceased prisoner’s body can be cremated before the detention center and relevant department have given us a satisfactory explanation of the cause of death?

Applicant: Zheng Ga

Addendum

Article 10[7] of the “Regulations for Handling of Criminals who die in Prison” promulgated newly this year, states, “After examination of the reasons for death, the body should be cremated within 15 days. If the family of the deceased criminal wishes to postpone the cremation, they must appeal to the prison.” As family members, we request the cremation to be postponed. We are completely against a hasty cremation.

Applicant: Zheng Ga[8]
 

Footnotes
[1] Regulations for Handling Criminals who Die in Prison (Jiānyù zuìfàn sǐwáng chǔlǐ guiding http://www.gmjy.gd.gov.cn/?c=article&act=view&id=1740)

[2] A translation into English of the letter, which was written in Chinese, is below.

[3] http://www.savetibet.org/sisters-of-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-temporarily-detained-sit-in-outside-prison-where-revered-lama-died/

[4] http://www.savetibet.org/chinese-troops-open-fire-beat-tibetan-protestors-after-death-of-revered-lama-in-prison/

[5] Chinese rendering of lay name of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Angad Tashi.

[6] Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family were liaising with prison management authorities in Chengdu. This office has oversight over Chuandong Prison and may also have oversight over the unknown detention facility where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was cremated.

[7] The relevant articles are actually 17 and 19 of Regulations for Handling Criminals who Die in Prison (Jiānyù zuìfàn sǐwáng chǔlǐ guiding http://www.gmjy.gd.gov.cn/?c=article&act=view&id=1740)

[8] The Chinese rendition of Dolkar, the name of one of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sisters.

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