Kunleng discusses the sudden death of a prominent Tibetan religious figure, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, at a Chinese prison after being imprisoned for 13 years, and his forced cremation in a crematorium within a detention center.
After hearing the news of Rinpoche's sudden and unexplained death last Sunday in Chuandong prison in the southwestern city of Chengdu, his cousin Geshe Jamyang Nyima from Dharamsala, along with friends and family members inside Tibet and within the diaspora Tibetan community immediately suspected foul play and believed Rinpoche was poisoned by the Chinese authorities. Although the cause of death is unclear, it is widely known that he was suffering from a heart condition amongst other things, and had been denied serious medical attention for several years.
Following Rinpoche's death, Tibetans from Rinpoche's hometown gathered in Honglong Town, Yajiang County of Kardze Prefecture in today's Sichuan Province (Nyagchu, Lithang in the traditional Tibetan province of Kham) and demanded the authorities to hand over his body so that they can perform proper Buddhist traditional funeral rituals.
The officials, however, allowed only around 30 Tibetans from his immediate family and students to see the body before the cremation and perform a short prayer. Their refusal in handing back the body and the protest that followed resulted in the arrest of over hundred Tibetans. "Rinpoche's sister Dolkar Lhamo and her daughter Nyima Lhamo were arrested by the authorities this morning, and hasn't been heard from since," says Geshe Jamyang Nyima.
Geshe Tenpa, a student of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who joined Kunleng from VOA's New York studio explains his initial shock at hearing the news of his beloved teacher's demise. "It was hard for me to believe the news. Rinpoche was not only a prominent and revered Buddhist leader and practitioner, his case had gained tremendous international support and various rights group had placed pressure on China to grant him medical parole. That just goes to show how brutal China's policies are, and their lack of consideration and value for human rights," he added.
The United States, the European Union, and international rights groups had called for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, who was serving a 20-year sentence on charges of "crimes of terror and incitement of separatism." Tibetans, however, have believed that Rinpoche was wrongfully arrested and convicted in 2002 because he was becoming a respected and popular champion of Tibetan interests which the Chinese Communist Party saw as a challenge to its authority.
Throughout his 13 years in prison, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had consistently stated his innocence and in an unprecedented act of devotion and belief in his innocence. 40,000 Tibetans risked their security in 2009 by signing a petition demanding justice for their teacher.