A Tibetan monk serving a sentence for terrorism and separatism for what human rights groups said were false charges has died in Chinese prison.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, was one of the most prominent political prisoners in China. He died on Sunday in Chuandong prison in Chengdu, his cousin Geshe Nyima told Reuters.
Police in Sichuan province in Southwestern China confirmed, but declined to give details about the death, the Associated Press reported.
Tenzin Delek was 13 years into serving a 20 year sentence on charges of “crimes of terror and incitement of separatism.”
He was convicted in 2002 of separatism and being involved in a bombing. His assistant Lobsang Dhondup - also convicted around the same time - was executed in 2003 while Delek’s death sentence was first commuted to life in prison and then to 20 years.
New York based, Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) released a statement online saying Delek maintained his innocence throughout his sentence. According to the statement, Delek’s relatives have asked Chinese police for his body in order to perform funeral rites.
Delek has been in extremely poor health with a serious health condition, and allegedly received no treatment, according to Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the US government.
"Over 13 years of unjust imprisonment and torture in prison left him with critical medical conditions for which he received no treatment," SFT said.
Delek was recognised as a Tulku, or a reincarnated Lama, when he lived in India between 1982 and 1987 by the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. He then returned to China and worked to set up Buddhist monasteries, health clinics, small schools and orphanages.
The human rights organisation Free Tibet says, the Chinese occupation of Tibet “has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and the imprisonment and torture of thousands more.”
Accusing China of economic discrimination, religious suppression and political oppression, Free Tibet claims, “Inside its borders and across the world, Tibetans have never stopped believing Tibet is a nation. Since 1959 [when an uprising against Chinese rule failed and many Tibetans had to flee the country], they have continued to oppose and resist China's rule and China has responded with intense repression.”
A staunch environmentalist and a mediator between Tibetans and the Chinese, Delek said in 2003 "Since I am a Tibetan, I have always been sincere and devoted to the interests and well-being of Tibetan people. That is the real reason why the Chinese do not like me and framed me. That is why they are going to take my precious life even though I am innocent."