He had been serving a 20-year sentence in Chuandong Prison in Chengdu and had repeatedly been denied medical parole despite calls by his family, human rights groups and governments because of his ill health.
He was arrested in April 2002 for his alleged involvement in bombings in Chengdu, and in December of that year, he was sentenced to death for charges of "terrorism and inciting separatism". During his trial Chinese authorities did not allow him access to the lawyer his family appointed for him and no court documents about his case have been released.
The death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and later to 20 years in 2005, following an international campaign. Tenzin Delek maintained his innocence throughout.
His family had not been allowed to see him since November 2013. Last week they were informed that they would finally be permitted to visit. However, after his two sisters travelled to the prison their visit was repeatedly postponed. On 12 July, prison authorities told them of his death.
Geshe Nyima, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's cousin, based in Dharamshala, India commented on the death to Students for a Free Tibet: "I am heartbroken at the loss of my dear cousin and our beloved Buddhist teacher. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was an innocent monk who suffered over 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. The Chinese government must immediately release his body so that our family and community may perform the last Buddhist religious rites."
Tenzin Delek's family and monks from his monastery in Nyagchu County are demanding that the prison authorities release his body for final Buddhist ceremonies. However, these requests have been rejected by the prison. According to a report by Free Tibet, authorities have said he will be cremated in prison and his ashes returned to the family. The family members and monks have been warned to return to their homes "without making a disturbance".
The Chinese authorities have also deployed security forces in Nyagchu County, where thousands of locals are gathering near the local government office to call for the release of the body.
Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said: "We are deeply saddened by the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Wrongfully convicted in the first place, his deteriorating health while in prison has been well documented and concerns have been repeatedly raised about his health by governments and campaign groups alike. China has ignored the world, as it so often does, and is now ignoring the pleas of local Tibetans who wish to give him proper funeral services. The developing situation in Nyagchu is deeply concerning and we call on the authorities to show restraint and to honour the wishes of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's family and community.
"It is always very difficult to get reliable information about individuals once they disappear into the Chinese prison system. But today we know one thing – an innocent man has died and the Chinese government is responsible."
Tibetan Youth Congress demands the Chinese government to: - "Officially confirm Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death and demand an enquiry into the circumstances of his death. He was a political prisoner at the top of the priority listing for a number of countries; his passing must be officially acknowledged and the causes investigated."
TYC President Tenzing Jigme said in a statement that, “todays unfortunate news clearly reaffirms TYC’s long standing view that the Chinese communist government cannot be trusted and therefore we have to step up and intensify our campaigns for the freedom of our nation and our people.”
"The death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche should serve as a reminder for all of us that the Chinese government will never hand us our freedom effortlessly but that we have to fight to win back our freedom," he added.