BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities cremated the body of a prominent Tibetan monk on Thursday, his sister said, denying family members custody of his remains amid suspicions over the cause of his death.
More than 30 monks, nuns and family members of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche viewed his body, said Dolkar, his sister, who witnessed the cremation in Dazhou city in southwestern Sichuan province on Thursday morning.
She said government officials had denied her request that her brother’s body be preserved for 15 days in keeping with Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Dolkar said her brother’s fingernails and mouth were black and that officials had not told her the cause of his death, adding to her suspicions.
The U.S. State Department said this it hoped Chinese authorities would investigate and make public the circumstances surrounding Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death at the age of 65 on Sunday.
International rights groups, as well as the United States and the European Union, have called for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who was serving a life sentence on charges of “crimes of terror and incitement of separatism”.
On Wednesday, dozens of Tibetans protested outside the prison where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died, reflecting anger amongst his supporters and family, who believe he was murdered.
Calls to the Dazhou government went unanswered. The Sichuan government propaganda department said it was unaware of the case. An official who picked up the telephone at the provincial police department said she had not heard of the case.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since troops took over the region in 1950, and those controls often extend to ethnic Tibetan areas in other parts of China. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.
China fears that any unrest in Tibetan regions could pose a threat to its rule there. The government rejects criticism that it has repressed Tibetan religious freedom and culture, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence