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Tibet-US-China-Gere-Tenzin-Delek-2015Washington DC: -- U.S. lawmakers held a moment of silence on Tuesday, expressing anger and sadness over the death in prison of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan political prisoner and spiritual figure, during a hearing on Tibet at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

US lawmakers lamented that U.S. criticism of China's policies in Tibet is failing to stop repression of the minority group and called for a tougher U.S. policy to pressure China at the hearing on the human rights situation inside Tibet.

They also demanded Chinese authorities to return the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family members for his last rites according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Congressman McGovern and Pitts, the co-chairs of the Human Rights Commission opened the meeting by stating that Chinese government was making a wrong calculation in believing that the Tibet issue will whither with the passing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Congressman McGovern reiterated strongly that U.S. Congress would not forget the issue of Tibet until it is resolved.

Congressman Pitts shared his grave concerns with implementation of strict restrictions on basic civil rights of Tibetans in Tibet; freedom of religion, freedom from guilt by association, hard restrictions on domestic and foreign travels.

Ms. Sarah Sewall, the State Department's special coordinator for Tibetan issues, said she shared the "anger and sadness" of the Tibetan people and the US lawmakers over Tenzin Delek's death. She said the "horrific self-immolations" of Tibetans in recent years were an expression of their desperation over the deteriorating situation in Tibet.

She also elaborated on the four major priorities of her office namely resuming dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; promoting Human Rights in Tibet; promoting religious freedom; and ensuring diplomatic and public access to Tibet and preservation of distinct culture, rich tradition and linguistic heritage of the Tibetan people.

Hollywood actor Richard Gere, an ardent advocate of the Tibetan cause and Chairman of International Campaign for Tibet, also gave a testimonial before the Commission, referring to Tulku Tenzin Delek's death in prison as a "stark reminder of who we are dealing with here."

The US lawmakers also discussed the possibility of restrictions on the movements of Chinese officials in U.S. to reciprocate for restrictions on American diplomats traveling to Tibet.

Audience members held up photos of Tenzin Delek, as the hearing was underway. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died on Sunday, 12 July, while serving the 13th year of a life sentence for what rights groups and the Tibetan people say were false charges that he was involved in a bombing.

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