By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Apr. 27: The 31st birth anniversary commemorations of the 11th Panchen Lama was observed globally on Saturday, marking 25 years of enforced disappearance of the ranking Tibetan religious figure.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s birthday assumed the platform for entities such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of Panchen Lamas in South India and advocacy groups to highlight his disappearance. A uniform plea among them was the demand for information about his whereabouts and an immediate release from his detention.
The sporadic international lockdown due to COVID-19 compelled organizations and advocacy groups to campaign virtually to spread awareness about the 11th Panchen Lama. USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee told the Washington Post, “Unfortunately, Gedun’s tragic plight represents the struggles of millions of Chinese believers to practice their faith in the face of an unprecedented crackdown.” Congressman Jim McGovern, a strong advocate for Tibet Policy & Support Act (TPSA), sent out a video of solidarity calling Panchen Lama a ‘prisoner of conscience’. “They [CCP] fear the Dalai Lama. They fear Tibetan Buddhism. They fear the practice of religion. They are afraid. And fear leads governments to violate human rights. No government is justified in doing what the Chinese government has done to him,” he said.
The Central Tibetan Administration, also known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, announced a month-long global advocacy initiative through its missions: Offices of Tibet, spread across the globe. It will be carried out from Apr. 25 to May 17, marking the date on which the Chinese authorities kidnapped Panchen Lama, and his parents. CTA President Dr. Lobsang Sangay urged the Chinese government to pay heed to the global appeal and allow Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family to be with the Tibetan community in Tibet.
President Sangay said that CTA offices abroad will submit petitions at various governments particularly to the United Nations and specifically to the Commission on Rights of Child, and Working Group on Enforced Disappearance in Geneva.
Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement, the seat of the Panchen Lama in exile, conducted a panel discussion on the plight of the high-ranking Lama. Lobsang Sangay (CTA President), Tenzin Dorjee (USCIRF Commissioner), Zeekgyab Rinpoche (Abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery), Arif Virani (Canadian MP), Sophie Richardson (China director at HRW), and Matteo Meccaci (ICT President) took part to discuss the current situation of religious freedom in Tibet and the 25 years of disappearance which has only led to a simplified response from China of late, that the Panchen Lama and his family are safe and do not wish to be disturbed.
The panel discussed the ongoing campaigns conducted by the various organizations to that end, criticized the government of China on their ongoing abuses of human rights, appealed to the international community to highlight Panchen Lama’s plight, and tried to envision various strategic mediums to bring about change in the current political climate.
Advocacy groups like the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) launched awareness campaigns to spread information on his disappearance. TYC chapters held a video conference to report the activities undertaken by their offices on the day to commemorate his disappearance. SFT-India conducted a live talk on the contributions made by 10thPanchen Lama with Tsangtruk Topla, a professor at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarah. It also initiated a campaign on Instagram weeks before his birthday where many historical quotes made by the 10th Panchen Lama were shared on social media platforms.