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Dharamshala -- Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly respected Tibetan spiritual teacher and one of the most prominent Tibetan political prisoners, reportedly died on July 12, 2015 during his twenty year incarceration in a Chinese prison, according to his family.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was first incarcerated in 2002, and sentenced to death on charges of "crimes of terror and incitement of separatism." During his trial he was never provided legal counsel and no court documents regarding his case have since been released. Following an international campaign, his death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and later to 20 years in 2005.

In recent years, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's family made multiple official requests for medical parole, in addition to multiple international campaigns calling for his release on medical parole, as the Rinpoche's health was notoriously deteriorating and he was plagued with a serious heart condition. Authorities never responded to the family's requests, though under Chinese law, Tenzin Delek is entitled to medical parole.

Geshe Nyima, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's cousin, in Dharamsala, India, has said, "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."

Additionally Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay released a statement, saying, "It is sad to learn about the death of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. We knew he was gravely ill and his followers made numerous appeals for a medical parole. The fact that he was not even allowed medical parole and last wish of followers to see him reflects continuing hard line policies of the Chinese government. Such mistreatment will only generate more resentment among Tibetans."

Local Tibetans have widely believed that he was wrongfully arrested and convicted in 2002 primarily because he was becoming a respected and popular champion of Tibetan interests which the local Chinese Communist Party saw as a challenge to its authority.