Dharamsala, April 25 – The XI Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima turns 14 years old today. This marks eight years since the Chinese government took him into custody in May 1995. While the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) commemorates his birth anniversary, it remains concerned about his continued detention. TCHRD is appalled that neither the United Nations nor any governments abroad has been able to achieve anything to date on this case apart from the rhetoric response from the Chinese government such as, “they [Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents] are leading normal lives and enjoying perfect health”. That a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council can lay claim to be holding the world’s youngest political prisoner is a situation which demands clear consensus and decisive action on the part of the international community.
On 14 May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognised Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Three days later, the boy and his parents disappeared from their home. In December 1995, the PRC government appointed its own Panchen Lama, a boy named Gyaltsen Norbu.
A year later, in May 1996, the PRC admitted to holding the XIth Panchen Lama “at the request of his parents” for “he was at the risk of being kidnapped by separatists and his security had been threatened”. Thus, despite its rejection of the Dalai Lama’s authority in recognising the Panchen Lama, and its refusal to acknowledge Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the true reincarnation, the Chinese government admitted the detention of the child. It is difficult to understand why the Chinese authorities would go to such lengths to provide “security” for a child who they consider to be just an ordinary boy.
In May 1997, the PRC launched “patriotic education” campaign in monasteries and nunneries in the Tibetan region. Under the auspices of that campaign, the PRC promotes recognition of the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama and denunciation of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Reports from refugees fleeing Tibet, and from independent travellers, indicate that pictures of the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama are displayed prominently in the main monasteries and tourist hotels of Tibet. Conversely, pictures of the Dalai Lama and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are banned throughout Tibet.
Many high level delegations and offices have expressed concern over the Panchen Lama’s continued detention, including the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, the PRC continue to deny any outside access to the child and his parents. In October 2000, during a round of human rights dialogue with China in London, British officials raised the issue of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.
The photographs did not answer the basic questions asked of the Panchen Lama such as his whereabouts and well-being. We believe that these photos are not only a totally inadequate strategy to allay international concern, but that any form of perceived appeasement is an empty gesture.
In August 2001, a Polish parliamentary delegation visiting Lhasa was told in response to repeated questions that gedhun Choekyi Nyima was healthy and was with his family. The delegation was promised photos of the boy within six weeks but never received them.
Although China may have escaped condemnation on their human rights record at the 59th United Nations Human Rights Commission this year, the disappearance of a young boy evidences the falsity of China’s claim to respect religious freedom in Tibet. TCHRD once again appeal to the international community to put pressure on China to release the young boy. We call on the PRC to allow an independent enquiry team to visit the child and verify his health and living conditions.