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Tibetan monk dies in Chinese prison
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The revered Tibetan monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, died in prison in China where he was serving a 20-year sentence for alleged connections to a park bombing, The New York Times reported.

His family was informed of his death Sunday, but they did not know the cause of death or when he died, according to The Times. He had served 13 years of his sentence.

Rinpoche denied any involvement with the 2002 bombing in Chengdu city, The Times reported. Human rights groups, including Students for a Free Tibet and Free Tibetan Heroes, have said the Chinese government's allegations against Rinpoche are false and a reaction to political views and his relationship with the Dalai Lama.

"(Tenzin Delek Rinpoche) spoke out about mining practices that would pollute the areas rivers and ruin the soil, logging practices that would cause flooding and soil erosion, and indiscriminate hunting that might lead to species loss," Free Tibetan Heroes wrote on their website. "(His) awareness raising caused concern amongst local officials who saw them as an obstacle to activities from which they are reported to have personally profited from."

Rinpoche was initially sentenced to death, then life in prison in 2005, and finally 20 years in prison, The Guardian reported. Students for a Free Tibet applied for medical parole last year upon reports Rinpoche was suffering from a heart condition, high blood pressure, dizziness and numerous falls due to problems with his legs.

Rinpoche was born in 1950 in the Tibetan area of Sichuan, The Washington Post reported. He studied under the Dalai Lama in India from 1982 to 1987, during which time he was recognized as a reincarnated lama, or a tulku.

He has since established orphanages, health clinics, small schools and monasteries in China.

"He is one of the most respected leaders," Dorjee Tseten, Asia director of Students for a Free Tibet, told Reuters. "His death is a shock for all of us."

Buddhism has had a major presence in China since the Eighth century, according to BBC.

"Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region. But the allegiances of many Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat," a BBC profile of the region explained.

He was exiled to India after a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959.

Religion in Tibet came under severe threat during China's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, during which most of its monasteries were destroyed and thousands of Tibetans were allegedly killed. An article in The Atlantic notes the region continues to suffer from human rights violations and severe restrictions from the Chinese government.
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