Australia Tibet Council

Enabling everyone in Australia to be part of change in Tibet

Reflections on two Tibetan heroes

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

TDR rip FBA week ago I returned to work six months after becoming a mother to my baby girl Lhakyi. I have spent the last week catching up on all that has happened while I was away. What a year it has been so far. From a wonderful visit from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to another powerful Tibet Advocacy Day in Canberra and so much more. And I thank Michelle Sheather who covered my role during the maternity leave with great dedication.

I have returned to a community reeling from the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan lama and community leader who, despite tireless efforts by Tibetans and supporters over many years to secure his release, was left to die in prison. But also to a community buoyed by the release of Runggye Adak, a Tibetan nomad, imprisoned eight years ago for daring to speak truth to power.

And today I am going to reflect a little on the lives of these two political prisoners, both of whom have come to epitomise the story of today’s Tibet. They are the stories of courage and resilience. Stories that need to be heard widely.


Even before his recent tragic death, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche would have been well known to most of you reading this. Rinpoche had dedicated himself to his community - improving education and health services by building schools and monasteries; acting as a mediator between Tibetans and Chinese; and advocating against indiscriminate logging and other environmental damage. He led a life of compassion. But because of his influence, he was perceived as a threat by oppressive and paranoid Chinese authorities. In 2002 he was accused of being involved in bombings in Chengdu and was sentenced to death. Three years later, as a result of intense campaigning his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. With his health deteriorating and requests for medical parole ignored, Rinpoche died under suspicious circumstances. China’s fear of Rinpoche did not end with his passing. His sister and niece were arrested for demanding the release of his body. Fearing that his dead body would mobilise Tibetans to protest, the Chinese authorities seized Rinpoche’s ashes after his cremation, denying his family the opportunity to perform their final religious rites.

Runggye Adak wordsLike Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Runggye Adak was born in Lithang in Tibet’s Kham province. A commoner, he did not have Rinpoche’s influence in the community. Yet he too was seen as a threat by the Chinese government to its control in Tibet.

On 1 August 2007, Runggye Adak stepped onto a stage at the Lithang horse festival. He grabbed a microphone and, before a crowd of several thousands including Chinese officials, spoke about how Tibetans “cannot express what is in our hearts” and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. The Chinese authorities described this simple act “a major political incident” and charged Runggye Adak with “provocation to subvert state power”.

No group has arguably fared worse under China’s occupation than Tibet’s nomads. Forced off their land and robbed of the way of life that had sustained them for thousands of years, many now find themselves grappling with poverty and social ills.

Runggye Adak is the voice of the common Tibetan representing the shared aspirations of all in Tibet. The inalienable desire for freedom. The freedom to live as they choose, including maintaining the ways that have sustained them peacefully for generations. The need to enjoy the basic rights that we in Australia take for granted. He represents the exasperation at China’s policies, which are shattering the lives of Tibet’s nomads. And he represents Tibetan’s courage and spirit in the face of such oppression.

Over the last eight years, Tibetans and supporters in Australia and worldwide have campaigned for Runggye Adak’s release. On 31 July 2015, he was released after finishing his prison term. The fact that he was released in the middle of the night to avoid any public celebration again shows China’s fear of this simple nomad and Tibetan hero. Although released from prison, Runggye Adak will have his freedoms restricted as he begins a four-year sentence of “deprivation of political rights” and remains under the constant watch of the authorities.

While nothing can undo the injustice these two Tibetan heroes faced, we can ensure their legacy lives on and share the stories of hundreds of other political prisoners who remain to languish in Chinese prisons.

Hope and determination


 Kyinzom Dhongdue is the Campaigns Manager at Australia Tibet Council.