WASHINGTON—Exiled Tibetans and human rights groups are calling for the release of a prominent Tibetan monk jailed in China on bombing charges, weeks before a two-year suspension of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death sentence is set to expire.
“The Chinese could make any decision. They could execute him or sentence him for life—anything could happen,” Tibetan Youth Congress president Kalsang Phuntsok told RFA’s Tibetan service in an interview. “The Tibetan Youth Congress is demanding his immediate release."
On Dec. 6, 2002, a court in China’s western Sichuan Province handed Tenzin Delek Rinpoche a suspended two-year death sentence for a series of bombings blamed on supporters of Tibetan independence. Another man, Lobsang Dhondup, was simultaneously sentenced to death in the same case and executed on Jan. 26, 2003. Both men denied the charges, and the case prompted an international outcry.
The sentences prompted an international outcry, and human rights organizations called for an open re-trial of the case. Three weeks before the suspension of his sentence is set to expire, human rights activists are calling again for the monk’s release.
“We consider him a political prisoner,” said T. Kumar, Washington-based director of Asia Advocacy at Amnesty International. “Amnesty International urges the Chinese authorities to stop all executions, and in particular the execution of political prisoners such as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.”
They could execute him or sentence him for life—anything could happen. The Tibetan Youth Congress is demanding his immediate release.
“We hope the Chinese will have a new beginning after being awarded the Olympics for 2008, and we hope [they will] … stop the execution of Tenzin as well as releasing him unconditionally and immediately,” Kumar said.
“We still think it was outrageous that he was jailed in the first place,” said Sarah Davis, researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York. “His trial was deeply flawed, and he should be released immediately. They have jailed not only Tenzin, but also a large number of his supporters in the region.”
In its 2003 report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department described the Chinese government’s “human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor, although some positive developments continued.”
The trials of both Lobsang Dhondup and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche “were closed to the public on ‘state secrets’ grounds, and they were denied due process, including access to adequate representation,” the report.
“Lobsang Dondrub's execution the same day he lost his appeal to the Sichuan Provincial Higher People's Court, as well as the failure of the national-level Supreme People's Court to review the case as promised to foreign officials, raised serious concerns in the international community.”
Callers to RFA’s Tibetan-language call-in program also called for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s release.
“He is completely innocent and should be released. It is… the hope and wish of all his supporters and well-wishers,” one caller from inside Tibetan said on Monday. “All those who know about him are greatly worried. All those who knew him well explains who excellent Lama he was.”
Another caller said Tibetans inside and outside territory under China’s control want to see Tenzin Delek Rinpoche freed. “He was concerned for the Tibetans. He worked hard for the Tibetans and Tibetan culture,” the caller said. “It was unfair to arrest [him]… Many of us are worried but all we can do is hope for the best.”
In January 2003, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche made an audio tape that was smuggled out of prison to RFA’s Tibetan service, In which he reiterated his innocence.
"Whatever [the authorities] do and say, I am completely innocent," he said from his jail cell in Dartsedo (Kangding, Sichuan). "I have always urged people to be kind-hearted and caring toward others. Everybody knows what I say and practice."
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who studied in India with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, said he heard from friends "about some explosions in the Sichuan area. Sometimes it was described as bomb explosions."
"Around that time, one of my friends called me and asked if Lobsang Dhondup was my relative. Then I became suspicious that something serious was going on," he said on the tape.
"When I heard about the explosions and Lobsang Dhondup, I suspected that I might be wrongly accused and arrested—that I might become a scapegoat."
"I was wrongly accused because I have always been sincere and devoted to the interests and well-being of Tibetans. The Chinese did not like what I did and what I said. That is the only reason why I was arrested."
The Dalai Lama's Tibetan government-in-exile has demanded that both sentences be reversed. It said the two men had been denied fair trials and the sentences should be thrown out.