Relatives Visit Imprisoned Buddhist Teacher Tenzin Deleg, Officials Report Ill Health

June 30, 2010

Officials in Sichuan province permitted two sisters of imprisoned Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tenzin Deleg (A'an Zhaxi) to visit him at an unspecified location on April 27, 2010, according to a June 11 Radio Free Asia (RFA) report. Prison officials informed the women that their brother is suffering from multiple illnesses, though sources told RFA that Tenzin Deleg had "played down" reports of his illness and his sisters said he appeared to be "reasonably well." The officials' unexpected notice to the sisters that they could visit their brother and the officials' unsolicited disclosure of information on his medical condition occurred approximately one year and nine months prior to January 2012, when Tenzin Deleg will have completed seven years of his sentence of life imprisonment―the period of time he must serve under Chinese regulations before officials can consider whether or not his illnesses may qualify him for release on medical parole (see below).

Case Background: Controversial Conviction in a Closed Court

The Ganzi (Kardze) Intermediate People's Court alleged that Tenzin Deleg's case involved "state secrets" and conducted the trial in a closed court on November 29, 2002, (Xinhua, 26 January 03). The same court sentenced Tenzin Deleg on December 2 to death with a two-year reprieve for conspiring to cause explosions (Criminal Law, Article 114) and 14 years' imprisonment for inciting separatism (Article 103), the January 26 Xinhua report said. The Sichuan High People's Court rejected Tenzin Deleg's appeal and upheld the reprieved death sentence on January 26, 2003, then commuted the sentence to life imprisonment on January 26, 2005, (Xinhua, 26 January 05). Tenzin Deleg reportedly did not confess to the charges, proclaimed his innocence during sentencing, and, according to the June 2010 RFA report, continues to deny the charges. The Ganzi court sentenced a second defendant, Lobsang Dondrub, to death during the same proceedings. Authorities executed Lobsang Dondrub on January 26, 2003―a Sunday―the same day the Sichuan High People's Court approved his sentence, according to a January 28, 2003, Reuter's report (reprinted in Phayul). Security officials detained Lobsang Dondrub and Tenzin Deleg on April 3 and April 7, 2002, respectively, according to information available in Appendix 1, Chronology, of the Commission topic paper referenced below.

Tenzin Deleg's Sisters Visit Him; Prison Officials Report Illnesses

On April 25, 2010, the deputy chairman of the government of Litang (Lithang) county, located in Ganzi (Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Sichuan province, and the head of the Litang procuratorate, informed Tenzin Deleg's sisters Sonam Dekyi and Drolkar that authorities would permit them to visit their brother two days later, on April 27, 2010, according to unnamed sources cited in a June 11 Radio Free Asia (RFA) report. The women reportedly had sought to visit their brother "for a long time" and rushed to "an unspecified meeting place" described in the RFA report as approximately 320 kilometers (approximately 200 miles) [by road] from Chengdu city, Sichuan's capital. According to information available in the Commission's Political Prisoner Database, Tenzin Deleg is serving his sentence at Chuandong Prison, located in the seat of Dazhu county, Dazhou municipality, Sichuan. The scaled linear distance between Chengdu city and the Dazhu county seat is approximately 290 kilometers (approximately 180 miles), based on Commission staff map research, which suggests that the meeting took place at or near Chuandong Prison.

The prison warden and doctor informed Sonam Dekyi and Drolkar that Tenzin Deleg is "suffering from ailments related to bones, heart, and blood pressure," according to a written statement provided by a Tibetan source to RFA and cited in the June 2010 RFA report. Prison officials also told the women that Tenzin Deleg "had recently suffered a fall, possibly caused by his ill health," according to the same statement. Multiple sources told RFA that Tenzin Deleg had "played down reports of his ill health" at the meeting, and his sisters reportedly said that he appeared to be "reasonably well," the report said.

Regulations on Medical Parole for Prisoners Serving a Life Sentence

According to a translation available in the Spring 2002 issue of Dui Hua Dialogue, the Measure on Implementing Medical Parole for Prisoners, issued in 1990 by the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security, states in Article 2: "For prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment, fixed prison terms or forced labor, if one of the following [four] conditions is fulfilled during their reform period, then medical parole can be permitted." Fulfillment of the second condition occurs if a prisoner serving a life sentence "has served seven years or more of his life sentence" . . . "and the prisoner contracts a serious, chronic illness which has not been successfully treated after a long period of time."

Tenzin Deleg will have completed seven years of his life sentence on January 25, 2012―the last day of the seventh year after the Sichuan High People's Court commuted his reprieved death sentence to life imprisonment on January 26, 2005, (Xinhua, 26 January 05). China's state-run media had acknowledged his health issues prior to the commutation: a December 30, 2004, Xinhua report noted that A'an Zhaxi (Tenzin Deleg) "had been suffering high blood pressure and coronary heart disease before he was put in jail" and stated that doctors were treating him in prison and conducting a medical checkup every three months.

Tibetans Petition for New Hearing, Stage Protests Demanding Release

In July 2009, Tibetans living in Yajiang (Nyagchukha) county, Ganzi TAP, conducted a petition campaign attributing Tenzin Deleg's imprisonment to "evil officials," according to a December 9 translation of the petition available on the High Peaks, Pure Earth (HPPE) Web site. HPPE obtained photographic images of the Tibetan-language petition on the same day from the Tibetan writer Woeser's Chinese-language blog. The petition dismissed the verdict as a "set-up" on the basis that "there does not exist any proof with regard to [Tenzin Deleg's] sentence, there exists no confession, [and] it is only an act of retaliation of the local authorities." In December 2009, hundreds of Tibetans in Yajiang and Litang (Lithang) counties staged protests demanding Tenzin Deleg's release according to several reports. (See, e.g., RFA, 7 December 09 and 10 December 09; International Campaign for Tibet, 17 December 09; Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, 9 December 09 and 11 December 09; and Phayul, 18 December 09.) Security officials detained "dozens" of protesters, tightened further a well-established crackdown, and later released most of the detained protesters, the reports said.

Tenzin Deleg―titled "trulku," a teacher whom Tibetan Buddhists believe is part of a lineage of reincarnated teachers that can span centuries―is a widely admired figure in the Litang-Yajiang area. According to the February 2004 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the Dalai Lama recognized him as a trulku while he was in India from 1982 to 1987. Tenzin Deleg founded and headed a number of monasteries and established social service facilities including children's schools, clinics, and an old-age home, according to the HRW report.

For more information on Tenzin Deleg's case, see the Commission's February 10, 2003, topic paper, The Execution of Lobsang Dondrub and the Case Against Tenzin Deleg: The Law, the Courts, and the Debate on Legality, also available as PDF, and the February 2004 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Trials of a Tibetan Monk: The Case of Tenzin Delek, also available as PDF. See the Commission's 2009 Annual Report and Special Topic Paper: Tibet 2008-2009 for more information on the political imprisonment of Tibetans. See the Commission's Political Prisoner Database for more information on the case of Tenzin Deleg and other Tibetan political prisoners.