Geshe Sonam Tenpa, a Tibetan Buddhist Monk living in exile in New York City, asked MU students for support Wednesday in his campaign for Tibetan freedom.
Tenpa traveled to Columbia to speak to students about his experiences with persecution and to ask for help in the campaign to free fellow Tibetan Monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche from prison.
Rinpoche, Tenpa’s former teacher, was sentenced to death after he was convicted of a series of bombings by a secret trial in China.
Rinpoche was a very successful teacher and leader in Eastern Tibet before his incarceration. He was also responsible for the rebuilding of nine monasteries and has many followers. He also spoke out against the sterilization of Tibetan women.
“He represents a huge amount of people in Eastern Tibet,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Tenpa’s translator and the grassroots coordinator at the Students for a Free Tibet headquarters in New York City. “We consider this a very important case.”
Tenpa said through his translator that the Chinese government had a plan to arrest Rinpoche because they viewed his growing popularity as a threat. Tenpa explained that the Chinese government used the growing fear of terror after Sept. 11, 2001, and branded Rinpoche as a terrorist.
Rinpoche’s sentence was commuted to life in prison thanks to a massive international campaign to spare his life in January.
Although Rinpoche will not be executed, Tenpa said he was still worried about his friend and teacher. Tibetan prisoners have been tortured and killed in Chinese prisons in the past and many of them die shortly after they are released because of the poor state of health they are in.
“It concerns me about Rinpoche and what the Chinese government would do to him or what they have already done to him,” Tenpa said.
Tenpa asked listeners to sign a petition for Rinpoche’s release. He said the issue was an emotional one for him as well as for Rinpoche’s followers in Tibet.
Afterward, MU senior Colleen Hayes said she found the speech informative and eye-opening. She also said she planned to sign the petition.
“A case like this is not just one man’s case, it’s very symbolic,” Tenpa said.