DHARMSALA, India (AP) — The niece of a prominent Tibetan religious leader has fled China and arrived in exile in northern India to reveal what her family says is the truth about the man's death in a Chinese prison.
Nyima Lhamo told The Associated Press late Wednesday that her family believes Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died as a result of torture and not from a heart attack as Chinese officials said.
Nyima, 26, said that her uncle told her mother during prison visits that he was repeatedly beaten and starved and asked to demonstrate his religious powers by police officials.
The family was informed of the high priest's death in July last year and only allowed to see the body after Nyima tied a ceremonial Tibetan scarf to the bars of the prison gate and tried to hang herself.
Nyima and her mother were only given a few moments with Tenzin Delek's body. But other monks in prison, who had dressed his body in monks' robes and laid it on a platform, told them that his nails were black and he had a deep hollow behind his head. Nyima said her uncle's lips had also turned black.
She arrived in the northern hill town of Dharmsala via Nepal Sunday after two weeks on the road with the help of smugglers whom she paid $9,700 for the trip. Dharmsala is home to the Dalai Lama, the supreme spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.
She said she made the difficult decision to leave her aging mother and 6-year-old daughter behind to tell her uncle's story to the world.
"We don't trust what China is telling us and demand a thorough investigation into his death," she said.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death in 2002 on charges of terrorism and inciting separatism in connection with a blast in Chengdu earlier that year, but the sentence was commuted to life and later to 20 years in prison. He had denied any involvement and repeatedly claimed he was innocent.
The family was not given a medical report after his death, and Nyima and her mother, Dolkar, were put under house arrest for two weeks to prevent them from spreading the news of Tenzin Delek's death.
Chinese authorities also forbade any search for Tenzin Delek's reincarnation, denying Tibetans their traditional right.
There was no immediate response to Nyima's claims from Chinese officials.
Calls to the Sichuan provincial public security bureau's media section rang unanswered. A man at the press office of the police department in the city of Chengdu said he was not aware of the case.