Chadrel Rinpoche, the abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery and head of China’s Search Committee for the Reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama, has been on hunger strike since July this year, locked in a secret compound in Chuandong No 3 Prison in Dazu County in Eastern Sichuan, US monitoring group “Human Rights in China” (HRIC) recently reported.
The 58-year-old Tibetan man had not been heard of since he was sentenced on 21 April 1997 to six years imprisonment and three years subsequent deprivation of political rights for “plotting to split the country” and for “leaking state secrets”. Chadrel Rinpoche had disappeared two years earlier, in May 1995, after the Dalai Lama officially declared Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the next Panchen Lama. He was held incommunicado under house arrest, suspected of having communicated with the Dalai Lama in exile regarding the choice of the reincarnation.
According to Chinese authorities, Chadrel Rinpoche “confessed” to the charges and refused legal representation. Reasoning that the case involved “state secrets”, Chadrel Rinpoche’s trial was closed to the public and the whereabouts of his detention has remained unknown until now.
Chadrel Rinpoche is believed to be held in the same cell as Hu Feng, a liberal communist intellectual, imprisoned by Mao Tsetung for over 20 years in complete secrecy for arguing that culture should not be made to serve political ideology.
Chadrel Rinpoche was reportedly brought to this top-secret compound, which even top prison officials are forbidden to enter, in late April or early May of this year. Only three people are allowed inside: two commissars who report directly to the Ministry of Justice in Beijing and a prisoner who acts as cook and guard of Chadrel Rinpoche and is never permitted to leave.
Human Rights in China, based in New York, reports that Chadrel Rinpoche, who is always called by a code name, has been denied all outside contact and is not allowed to leave his cell to take exercise. He reportedly commenced his hunger strike in July of this year and while it is unknown whether he has resumed eating sources report that his health is very poor.