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Exile Tibetans mark 35th year of Panchen Lama’s disappearance

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(R-L) Sikyong Penpa Tsering, Estonian MP Juku-Kalle Raid, Zeekgyab Rinpoche, and Speaker Khenpo Sonam Tenphel cutting a ceremonial cake at Tsuklakhang temple in Dharamshala(Photo/Tenzin Jigme Taydeh/CTA)

By Tenzin Nyidon 

DHARAMSHALA, April 25: The mood in the air was bitter sweet as Tibetans in Dharamshala, the exile seat of the Tibetan diaspora community commemorated the 35th birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on Thursday, while also marking his disappearance. The Tibetan government-in-exile known officially as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in a statement urged the democratic government and international rights group to press China for access to an independent fact-finding delegation, to secure the swift release of the second highest spiritual leader of Tibet, his family and Jadrel Jampa Trinley Rinpoche, head of the Search Committee for the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama. 

The incumbent President Penpa Tsering and his Kashag (Cabinet), urgently called for the immediate release of Panchen Rinpoche, expressing, “Our most pressing concern is whether the Panchen Rinpoche is still alive or not. If he is presumed to be alive, has he been brought up with his parents from the age of six up till now for the last 29 years? Or had he been kept in a remote environment to become someone who can’t speak even in Tibetan? How much the people around him might have abused and tortured him, just as the Chinese communist Red Guards subjected the 10th Panchen Rinpoche through struggle sessions? Has he been confined within the high walls of a Chinese prison with no communication with the outside world? Or had he been kept in solitary confinement with no sight of the sunlight, just as the 10th Panchen Rinpoche? Was he being tortured by the Chinese government with cold and hunger in a place battered with blizzards? Or is he being forced to work as a slave in a labor camp? Is the Panchen Lama, who has reached his prime age really living a healthy life? These are the vital questions which remain unanswered?” 

In their statement, the Kashag also urged the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama to resist becoming a “political tool” of the Chinese government’s political agenda, despite his Tibetan heritage. They urged him to acknowledge the grave threats facing the Tibetan people and Buddhism, and to courageously fulfil his responsibilities without actions that could harm Tibetans or the Tibetan spiritual and political struggle.

The abbot of Tashi Lhunpo monastery, Zeekgyab Rinpoche who has testified the 11th Panchen Lama’s plight in both United States and Canada officially and lobbied for support internationally, urged nations and governments to aid Tibetans in finding the revered religious figure.

The abbot of tashi Lhunpo monastery, Zeekyab Rinpoche addressing the joint appeal during the press conference in Dharamshala on Thursday (Photo/Tenzin Jigme Taydeh/CTA)

Alongside the Kashag’s statements, Regzin Dorjey, Acting President of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, expressed profound concerns during a joint press conference regarding the lack of clarity surrounding the well-being and location of the Panchen Rinpoche. He emphasised the need to appeal to the Indian government, as an Indian citizen, to press the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi for updates on Panchen Rinpoche’s status. Dorjey voiced scepticism and apprehension about China’s claims of Panchen Rinpoche receiving education, stating, “As a Buddhist leader, I doubt whether Panchen Rinpoche is still alive, given that we have not seen him since his abduction by China.”

During the press conference attended by the Estonian Parliamentary delegation and Tibet Support Group delegations, Juku-Kalle Raid, a Member of Parliament condemned China’s abduction of the Panchen Rinpoche, as “non-democratic” and “war against human rights,” stating, “One day, maybe, we see where Panchen Lama is, if he is alive because I don’t trust Communist China because I am born in Soviet Union so I know what it means and I don’t trust them.”

The 11th Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, revered as one of the eminent spiritual figures in Tibetan Buddhism, was officially recognised by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 1995 when he was just six years old. However, shortly after his recognition, on May 17, 1995, the Chinese Communist Party forcefully abducted him and his family into state custody, making him the world’s youngest political prisoner. Since then, the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama has remained a grave concern for the Tibetan administration in exile, as well as various Tibetan advocacy groups and non-governmental organisations in exile, which have persistently campaigned for transparency regarding his health and current whereabouts. 

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.

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