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29 years on, the world demands information on Panchen Lama

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'Free Panchen Lama' a graffiti on the streets of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala (Photo/SFT)

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, May 18: Exactly 29 years since the abduction of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama by Chinese authorities, the world continues to demand answers regarding the whereabouts of the world’s youngest political prisoner.

International figures including politicians, activists and rights groups continue to call for information on the Tibetan religious figure from Beijing. In a statement commemorating this sombre anniversary, the United States State Department declared, “Today marks 29 years since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) abducted the 11th Panchen Lama, one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism, as a six-year-old child. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima remains missing and has not appeared in public since that day. The PRC government is denying members of the Tibetan community access to this important religious figure and instead continues to promote a state-selected proxy.”

The U.S. reiterated its support for the Tibetan people’s right to religious freedom and self-determination, urging China to “immediately account for Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s whereabouts and well-being and to allow him to fully exercise his human rights in line with the PRC’s international commitments.” Under Secretary Uzra Zeya, the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, echoed these sentiments, calling on China to “cease its ‘Sinicization’ of all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, in line with its international obligations.”

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) also marked the anniversary with a statement on social media, urging the PRC to provide proof of life for the Panchen Lama and his family and to allow them to communicate with Tibetans globally.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) released a statement condemning China’s actions. “Over these years, the international community, various governments, organisations, supporters, and Tibetans around the world made extensive efforts on many accounts to ascertain the whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, who was popularly known by his birth name Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Some even raised concerns about the Panchen Lama’s health and whereabouts directly with PRC delegations, including in the United Nations on several occasions but to no avail,” the statement read.

Tenzin Lekshay, spokesperson for the CTA, strongly criticized China’s ongoing enforced disappearance of the Panchen Lama. “We condemn China’s prolonged enforced disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama and reiterate our call on the PRC government to immediately release the Panchen Lama who has remained in captivity for 29 years.”

Human rights organizations, including the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), have described the continued secret detention of the Panchen Lama as a “blatant act of enforced disappearance,” labelling it a severe violation of international human rights.

The Tibetan activist group Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), vowed to keep Nyima’s plight in the public eye. SFT declared on social media, “We will not let him be forgotten and let the world know the cruelty of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”

On the grassroots level too, the issue has traction; During the third day of the 29th  Gyalyum  Chenmo Memorial  Gold Cup  (GCMGC), players held a banner demanding the release of the Panchen Lama. A player from the Gullathala FC celebrated his goal by displaying a T-shirt emblazoned with “Free Panchen Lama.”

Just three days after being recognized by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, on May 17, 1995, the 11th Panchen Lama, his parents, and Chadrel Rinpoche, the abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, vanished without a trace.

In April 2022, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated previous claims from 2020 regarding Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Zhao stated that Gedhun received compulsory education as a child, successfully passed college entrance examinations, and is now employed. According to Zhao, Gedhun and his family desire privacy and wish to maintain their current lifestyle without disturbance. However, the Chinese government has not offered any additional statements or evidence concerning the whereabouts or well-being of the 11th Panchen Lama since then.

2 Responses

  1. “let the world have the blessings of the Panchen Lama, and let the world leaders meet with him”. Well said.

  2. What a pathetic Xi Jinping regime is? Holding a revered and innocent Panchen Lama since he was six years old? The world should ask Xi Jinping: Where is the Panchen Lama? Where are his parents? Where is Jatrel Rinpoche? Why are you so afraid of them? Aren’t you supposed to be a super power? Are you a chicken super power? Are you so afraid of being disposed like a garbage or rubbish?
    If you have the guts, let the world have the blessings of the Panchen Lama, and let the world leaders meet with him. Free the Panchen Lama! Free Tibet! Bhoe Gyalo!

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