Human Rights in China has learned from multiple independent sources that Chadrel Rinpoche, 58, former abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery and head of the official search team for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, is being held at Chuandong No.3 Prison in Dazu County, Sichuan. This is the first news of his whereabouts since he was sentenced on April 21, 1997 to six years' imprisonment and three years' subsequent deprivation of political rights for "conspiring to split the country" and "leaking state secrets."
Dazu County, a mountainous district over 180 kilometers from Chongqing and accessible only by bus, has traditionally served as a black hole for disposing of highly sensitive political cases. Mao Zedong kept Hu Feng imprisoned at Chuandong No. 3 Prison for over twenty years in complete secrecy. Chadrel Rinpoche is believed to be locked in the same cell.
Inmates refer to the compound which houses the "strict observation brigade" as "the prison within the prison": here, cut off from the rest of the facility by lines of tall electric fencing, recalcitrant prisoners are punished with round-the-clock observation and severe controls on their actions. But behind this section is still another, smaller, compound which even top prison officials are forbidden to enter. Reportedly, Chadrel Rinpoche was brought to this top-secret compound sometime in late April or early May, shortly after his sentencing.
Only three other 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 for Chadrel Rinpoche and is never permitted to leave. Not even the warden may ask any questions about the prisoner within, who is always called by a fake name.
Chadrel Rinpoche has been denied all outside contact since his arrival at Chuandong No. 3 Prison and is not allowed to leave his cell to take exercise. In protest of the denial of even his most basic rights under labor camp regulations, he reportedly commenced a hunger strike sometime in July. It is not known whether he is eating now, but sources have reported that his health is very poor.