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Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in 1999. He was one of China’s most prominent political prisioners and the United States, European Union and international rights groups had called for his release.The Associated Press

Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison 13 years into serving a sentence for what human rights groups say were false charges that he was involved in a bombing in a public park. He was 65.

Relatives were informed of the death on July 12 but were not given details of how he died, according to New York-based Students for a Free Tibet. China's official Xinhua News Agency reported on July 19 that a prison guard found the monk suffering from respiratory failure about two hours after he began to take his usual nap on July 12. Prison doctors gave him emergency treatment for a heart attack and he was taken to hospital, where he died after further treatment, the report said.

Tenzin Delek was arrested in 2002 in relation to an April 3, 2002, blast in Chengdu city that injured three people. He was sentenced to death on charges of terrorism and incitement of separatism a few months later. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2005, and later to 20 years' imprisonment (his co-defendant was executed in 2003). Tenzin Delek, who continued to maintain his innocence, was jailed in a prison in Dazhu county in Sichuan province, which borders the Tibetan region.

His body was cremated on July 16 in Chengdu city, against the wishes of relatives, who wanted his body to be released to them for a Buddhist funeral. About 30 Tibetans from his immediate family and students were allowed to see his body before the cremation and perform a short prayer, according to Students for a Free Tibet.

News of his death set off demonstrations in China last week that left more than 20 people injured, as well as protests in New Delhi and Dharamsala, India, where demonstrators carried placards reading, "Murdered in prison" and "We want justice."

"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," his India-based cousin, Geshe Nyima, said in a statement released by Students for a Free Tibet.

Last year, members of his family had applied for medical parole for him on the grounds that he suffered from a heart condition, high blood pressure, dizzy spells and problems with his legs that had caused him to fall on a number of occasions.

Born in 1950 in a Tibetan area of Sichuan, Tenzin Delek stayed in India from 1982 to 1987 to study under the Dalai Lama. During that time, the Dalai Lama recognized him as a tulku, or a reincarnated lama.

In 1987, Tenzin Delek returned to China, where he worked to establish monasteries, health clinics, small schools and orphanages, rising in prominence. Human rights groups said his relationship with Chinese officials took a turn for the worse when he rolled back attempts to clear forests and because of his support for the Dalai Lama, who is considered a separatist by the government.

The United States, the European Union and international rights groups had called upon China to release Tenzin Delek from prison.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since it took over the region in 1950, and has cracked down heavily on those who support the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising.

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