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Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Tibetan lama imprisoned by China, dies at 65

Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in 1999. (AP)

Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has died in a Chinese prison 13 years into a sentence for what human rights groups say was a conviction on false charges that he was involved in a bombing in a public park. He was 65.

Relatives were informed of the death July 12, New York-based Students for a Free Tibet said. Police in Sichuan province in southwestern China confirmed the death but declined to give further details.

Tenzin Delek was arrested in 2002 in connection with an April 3, 2002, blast in Chengdu city that injured three people. He was sentenced to death on charges of terror and incitement of separatism a few months later. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2005 and later to 20 years in prison. He continued to maintain his innocence.

He was being held in a prison in Sichuan province, which borders the Tibetan region.

Last year, Students for a Free Tibet had applied for a medical parole for him on the grounds that he suffered from a heart condition, high blood pressure, dizzy spells and problems with his legs that had caused him to fall on several occasions.

Tenzin Delek was born in 1950 in a Tibetan area of Sichuan, and he studied under the Dalai Lama in India from 1982 to 1987. During that time, the Dalai Lama recognized Tenzin Delek as a tulku, or a reincarnated lama.

In 1987, he returned to China, where he worked to establish monasteries, health clinics, small schools and orphanages.

Human rights groups have said his relationship with Chinese officials took a turn for the worse because he opposed attempts to clear forests and because of his support for the Dalai Lama, who is considered a separatist by the government.

Exiled Tibetans marched Monday in New Delhi and in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama has lived since fleeing Tibet in 1959. They carried placards reading, “We want justice” and “Murdered in prison.”

His family called for authorities to release his body.

"Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was an innocent monk who suffered . . . 13 years of unjust imprisonment, torture and abuse in a Chinese prison for simply advocating for the rights and well-being of his people and for expressing his devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama," an India-based cousin, Geshe Nyima, said in a statement released by Students for a Free Tibet.

“The Chinese government must immediately release his body so that our family and community may perform the last Buddhist religious rites,” the statement said.

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