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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibetans Take to the Streets Over "Terrorist" Monk

December 15, 2009

Rebecca Novick, Huffington Post
Posted: December 11, 2009 03:23 PM

"I have always taught people that one should not harm any life, not even
that of an ant. How could I then possibly be responsible for such an
act?" Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Last week, hundreds of Tibetans, young and old, began gathering in
Kardze (Ch. Ganzi) prefecture in Sichuan Province to shout the name of a
59-year-old jailed monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, according to sources who
spoke with Radio Free Asia. Tenzin Delek has been labeled a "terrorist"
by Chinese authorities, but to these people he is a hero.

Tenzin Delek was arrested in December 2002 for his alleged involvement
in a series of bombings that caused one death and a number of injuries,
and is currently serving a life sentence in Mianyang Prison. From the
extensive research done on the case by Human Rights Watch, Tenzin
Delek's arrest appears to have been a somewhat desperate measure in a
series of efforts by local officials to curb the activities of a man who
had become a threat to their authority. But although they have
effectively silenced the man, they can't seem to silence his memory.

According to RFA's sources, this December 5th, about 60 Tibetans, mostly
youths from Tenzin Delek's native village of Orthuk, went to Nyakchukha
county government offices to appeal for his release. RFA reports that
the protesters were attacked by security forces and their motorbikes
smashed and dumped into army vehicles. But when word got out about the
incident, people began to descend on Nyakchukha from neighboring
counties to demonstrate on Tenzin Delek's behalf.

Days later, they are still coming. Many are older Tibetans "who want to
see Tenzin Delek Rinpoche," a local Tibetan told RFA, on condition of
anonymity. Some are avoiding roadblocks by walking over the hills. Some
are refusing to leave, even when finding themselves blocked by large
contingents of security forces who have warned the crowds of possible
violent repercussions. The reports are sketchy (in many places in Kardze
public phones have been removed to stop people from reporting events
such as these) and some are still not confirmed, but they point to
hundreds of detentions, injuries, hunger strikes, and towns under curfew.

So who is this man for whom Tibetans are willing to risk their lives and
who Chinese authorities have called "one of the two greatest enemies of
China"? (The other is, of course, the Dalai Lama.)

Over the decades leading up to his arrest, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche became
hugely popular as a social activist and people's advocate. He
established schools for orphans and the poor, free medical clinics and
old-age homes. He openly expressed his loyalty to the Dalai Lama. And he
was not afraid to challenge and criticize government cadres whom he
believed to be self-serving, corrupt, or inefficient. The height of his
success as an activist, and some say the beginning of his downfall, was
a grassroots campaign to reclaim public forest land that the government
had seized for logging. The locals won back their land, but officials
never forgave Tenzin Delek for their loss of face.

Before then, it seems that they had tolerated him, perhaps appreciating
the usefulness of his role as an intermediary between the local people
and local government. But after the forest campaign, Tenzin Delek found
life becoming increasingly difficult. His activities were labeled
"political" and so were forbidden. His freedom of movement was
restricted. He was occasionally detained and was twice forced into hiding.

Lochoe Drimey, one of Tenzin Delek's former students, organized a
petition appealing his teacher's innocence in 2001. Lochoe, who fearing
his own arrest later fled to India, collected 40,000 signatures and
thumbprints. "It became a spontaneous mass movement and unanimous
support for Rinpoche's safety," he told the Tibetan Centre for Human
Rights and Democracy.

These days, in what must seem like a disturbing deja vu for government
officials, Tibetans are once again out in numbers and insisting upon
Tenzin Delek's innocence. Five of his family members reportedly traveled
to Beijing a number of weeks ago to deliver a lengthy petition signed by
30,000 people, which called for a new hearing. The petition can be read
in its entirety at High Peaks, Pure Earth.

"If you are out to condemn somebody, you can always find a charge,"
reads the petition. "If this case is not solved justly...all the people
who follow him, regardless of whether the poor turn into beggars,
whether men or women, they will definitely not stop appealing for justice."

According to Human Rights Watch, Tenzin Delek never received a fair
trial. "The court was neither independent nor impartial, and the
defendants were denied access to independent legal counsel....Claiming
that state secrets were involved, Chinese authorities still refuse to
release any of the evidence presented at trial." It also seems that
China's promise to U.S. officials that the Supreme People's Court, the
highest court in China, would carry out a "lengthy" review of the cases
was not honored.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was probably sentenced largely on the basis of an
alleged confession by his distant relative, Lobsang Dhondrup, who was
accused of being an accomplice to the bombings. Lobsang's confession was
never made public and it seems highly likely that it was extracted under
torture. At his sentencing, Lobsang retracted his confession but was
executed in January 2003.

Tenzin Delek, who also has repeatedly expressed his innocence, was given
a suspended 2-year death sentence. A well-known Chinese human rights
lawyer offered to defend him at his appeal hearing, but was informed
that Tenzin Delek was happy with his choice of a local lawyer. His
appeal was denied but his case sparked an international outcry. The
governments of the United States, the United Kingdom,the European Union,
India and others, pressured China on Tenzin Delek's behalf, and in 2005,
his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Said Philippa Carrick of The Tibet Society UK, "With Tenzin Delek
Rinpoche's health now seriously deteriorating, thousands of Tibetans, in
genuine, heartfelt reaction, are rallying to his cause. They are asking
for no more than a basic humanitarian gesture from the authorities that
could lead to his release."

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is reported to be suffering from heart pains and
has difficultly walking. But even in his compromised physical condition,
from the strength of these recent protests, it's clear that his
reputation among Tibetans remains as vigorous as ever.

Rebecca Novick is the founding producer of The Tibet Connection radio
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