Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche is a senior Tibetan Buddhist teacher and a respected social worker. He has been serving a life sentence imposed on him in 1999 on the charge of ‘attempting to split the country’. Before his arrest, he had worked to give unfortunate young children a chance to compete in society by setting up a school and that seemed to be the cause of his imprisonment.
Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche and his wife Nyima Choedron set up a school in Lhasa in mid-1990s which housed and schooled poor and orphans children in and around Lhasa area. At the time of his arrest, the Gyatso had sixty children and increasing. The children were either orphans or from very poor families, thus lacking basic survival support and a prospect in future. When Rinpochi was arrested, Gyatso School was closed and sadly many of its children were forced to beg on the street.
Bangri Rinpoche was linked to an incident in August 1999 when a Tibetan carpenter named Tashi Tsering made an unsuccessful attempt to raise Tibetan flag and thereafter detonate explosives attached to his body. The carpenter was under contract to build a roof in order to expand the school for more children. This led to the arrest of staffs at the Gyatso School and closure of the school.
Tashi Tsering was arrested and according to official Chinese government report, he killed himself in his cell in February 2000. Several staff from the Gyatso school and relatives of Tashi Tsering were also arrested following the incident and have now been released. Bangri Rinpoche’s wife Nyima Choedron was also arrested and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Bangri Rinpoche has reported been weakened since the arrest and he is in very poor state of health.
This case reflects the malice tactic of Chinese authority in targeting Tibetans who are involved in empowering Tibetans and promoting Tibetan cultural heritage, language, and religion.
Update March 2006: Bangri Chogrul’s life sentence was commuted to a fixed term of 19 years, due to be completed in 2021. Nyima Choedron was released early on February 26, 2006.