By Phurbu Thinley
Gendhun Choekyi Nyima's photo taken in 1995, when he was six years old, remains the only proving clue available of him outside China. (File photo)
Dharamsala, April 25: The 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima turned 20 on Saturday, but nothing solid of his whereabouts and well being have surfaced since he and his parents were abducted by the Chinese authorities way back in 1995.
Panchen Lama is revered as the second highest ranking tulku lineage in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and one of the most influential spiritual leaders of Tibet.
Born on April 25, 1989, in Lhari County, Tibet, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima was recognised by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama on 14 May 1995 at the age of six. Three days later, on 17 May, he along with his parents went missing.
On 15 May, 1996, the Chinese government admitted to holding the 11th Panchen Lama and his parents in their “protective custody”.
Tibetan Government-in-Exile claims that he and his family continue to be political prisoners, and have called him the “youngest Political prisoner in the world”. Others have referred to him as “Tibet’s Stolen Child”.
Traditionally, the Panchen Lama bears part of the responsibility for finding the incarnation of the Dalai Lama and vice versa.
In Dharamsala, the seat of Tibet's Government in exile in northern India, Tibetan exiles led by prominent activist groups organized events marking his 20th birthday to call on China to confirm his safety and whereabouts.
Activists staged a street play showing a young Panchen Lama under Chinese captivity. The activist groups also conducted a signature campaign seeking Panchen Lama's release and, distributed "Release Panchen Lama" head gears and head bands.
Activists stage a street play showing Panchen Lama in Chinese custody in Dharamsala, India, Saturday, April 25, 2009 (Photo: Marin Lee/SFT)
The organizers have also planned a candle light vigil in the evening and will screen, after the peaceful rally culminates at the Main Tibetan Temple (Tsuglagkhang) here, a documentary film- The Kingdom of a Lost Boy.
Over the years, there have been conflicting reports about the whereabouts and well being of the Panchen Lama, ranging from rumours of his death towards the late 1999 to a set of photos that Chinese officials displayed briefly, but did not hand over to European human rights officials. The photos reportedly showed the young Gedhun Choekyi Nyima playing table-tennis and writing Chinese characters on a blackboard.
In 2001, the International Campaign for Tibet obtained a new photo purporting to be of 12 year old Gendhun Choekyi Nyima. However, nothing is known of the photos authenticity. Critics believe that it could have been faked by the Chinese authorities as a way to address growing international pressure for information on the safety and condition of the Panchen Lama.
Chinese Government of lately claimed that he is attending school and leading a normal life somewhere in China, and that his whereabouts are kept undisclosed to protect him, but all requests for access to Gendhun Choekyi Nyima have been repeatedly refused so far.
As of now, there is no any reliable evidence of what has become of the Gendhun Choekyi Nyima and, only one photo taken when he was six years old remains the only proving clue available outside China.
Tibetan exiles and supporters have regularly initiated numerous campaigns for the last 14 years asking China to provide verifiable information on the well being and whereabouts of the young Panchen Lama. “Despite repeated calls from UN bodies to allow independent fact-finding delegations to assess his health and general wellbeing, Chinese authorities continue to turn deaf ears, and have not confirmed the safety and whereabouts of Panchen Lama,” the campaigning groups united under Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM) said in a joint statement today.
“Since the kidnapping and incarceration of the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, Tibetans and their supporters have been adamant in seeking his release, and the worldwide campaigns will continue to highlight the predicament of the Panchen Lama and the political prisoners in Tibet,” it added.
“TPUM will step up its efforts in its relentless pursuit of its goal; to ensure the safe return of Panchen Lama to his rightful abode (Tashi Lhunpo Monastery) and to see the complete restoration of His freedom and His political and religious rights,” the statement said.
Tashi Lhunpo in Shigatse, Tibet, is the traditional seat of the successive Panchen Lamas and is one of the most prominent monasteries in Tibet.
A branch of the monastery now based in South India has also issued a statement today calling on China to provide details of the exact whereabouts and well-being of Gedun Choekyi Nyima. It also asked China to allow official enthronement of the 11th Panchen Lama at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery without any conditions and permit him to receive the traditional Buddhist education.