By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, May 18: Tibetans across the world commemorated the 25th year marking the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, on Sunday. Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), parliamentarians, Tibet Support Groups (TSGs) and prominent international organizations voiced their support for an immediate release of the second-highest-ranking lama in Tibet, and also urged China to stop interfering in the traditional Buddhist system of recognizing reincarnated lamas.
The exiled Tibetan government, officially known as CTA, held a panel discussion and an official candlelight vigil to mark the day. CTA President Dr. Lobsang Sangay, former USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee, Abbot of exile Tashi Lhunpo monastery Zeekyab Rinpoche, ICT Vice-president Bhuchung K. Tsering and Secretary of DIIR Karma Choeying joined the discussion to highlight the plight of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, by connecting the Tibetan religious figure to the larger Tibetan struggle. Earlier this month, CTA called for a month-long campaign and also urged the global audience to participate in a global candlelight vigil for his release and all other Tibetan prisoners of conscience.
Parliamentarians and officeholders from US, Italy, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Britain, Scotland, Estonia, Taiwan, and India also expressed their solidarity with the youngest political prisoner abducted by China on May 17, 1995.
US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, said in a recent interview with AFP said, “No, we do not have any idea of the whereabouts, and yes, we continue to press the Chinese authorities to release the Panchen Lama and let him free (…and) let the world know where he is. And this takes on, I think, an increased interest and focus and importance as China continues to assert – the Chinese Communist Party continues to assert their right to appoint the next Dalai Lama, and – which they do not have the right to do.”
Similarly, USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee remarked on his 31st birthday in April, “The Panchen Lama of Tibet has been kept isolated since he was a child and denied the opportunity to live a normal life. We urge the Chinese government to show a video evidence of his safety during this COVID-19 pandemic out of human dignity and free the Panchen Lama immediately.”
Moreover, many committees and international organizations demanded China’s response to the issue of his disappearance including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Citizen’s Power Initiatives for China, Unrepresented People’s Organization and Human Rights Watch (HRW), UN Watch, Amnesty International, Society for Threatened Peoples, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). Messages of support and concern flooded social media on Sunday so as to remind China of its international obligation to protect the human rights of all Tibetans. 159 organizations also submitted a joint petition to the United Nations (UN), Geneva to hold China accountable for the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents, Dechen Choedron and Konchog Phuntsog, and Chatral Rinpoche.
China claims that his whereabouts are kept undisclosed to protect him. It has repeatedly denied any access to the Panchen Lama as no one has been allowed to visit him since his disappearance. Beijing appointed its own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, whose legitimacy to the throne has been rejected by Tibetans.