Tibet. Missing the 11th Panchen Lama

DHARAMSHALA, INDIA.Today marks the 35th birth anniversary of one of Tibet’s important religious leaders, the 11th Panchen Lama, who has been in Chinese custody for more than 28 years since he was initially abducted at six along with his entire family. What was meant to be a sacred and joyous day for Tibetans and Buddhists around the world to celebrate the birth anniversary of their religious leader has instead become a painful reminder of China’s abduction and disappearance of the Panchen Lama.

Jetsun Tenzin Gedhun Yeshi Trinley Phuntsok Pal Sangpo, also known as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was born in Lhari, Nagchu, Tibet on 25 April 1989 to Kunchok Phuntsok and Dechen Choedon. On 14 May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama proclaimed six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th reincarnation of the late Panchen Lama. Beijing officials were furious about the disruption of their plans to control the selection process. On 17 May of 1995, just three days after His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s announcement, the child and his family were reported missing, making the then six-year-old Panchen Lama the youngest political prisoner in the world.

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Panchen Lamas are considered one of the most revered religious leaders in Tibet, sharing a special spiritual relationship with Dalai Lamas that is often compared to the ‘Sun and the Moon’ in the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual firmament. These two preeminent lamas’ lineages have not only contributed a great deal to the spiritual and physical well-being of Tibetans, but have also made significant contributions to social, economic, cultural, and political life for the Tibetan people. In the words of the great 14th Dalai Lama, the 11th Panchen Lama is an “important person with a special responsibility” and “who must carry on” the Dalai Lama’s work.

Throughout history, the various Panchen Lamas have contributed immensely to the betterment of Tibetan society. The most notable of them all had been the great 10th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Thrinlay Choekyi Gyaltsen, who in particular played a vital role in preserving Tibetan culture, tradition and language. Steadfast, firm, and courageous in his beliefs, the 10th Panchen Lama was considered one of the most influential leaders in contemporary Tibet.The 10th Panchen Lama delivered his famous 70,000-character petition to leaders of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1962, highlighting Tibetan struggles in Tibet and urging the Chinese leaders to take responsibility for improving Tibet’s social, economic and cultural situation. Angered by this “over-proud Panchen”, Mao accused him of being a “reactionary force”. The PRC authorities imprisoned the Panchen Lama for 13 long years 1964 to 1977 during which time he endured immense torture and sufferings. Upon his release from prison and return to Tibet in June 1982, the 10th Panchen Lama continuously and courageously worked tirelessly to rebuild the Tibetan way of life and to preserve and promote Tibetan religion and culture. He passed away suddenly on 28 January 1989 under mysterious circumstances.

Beijing’s abduction of the 11th Panchen Lama and the selection of Gyaltsen Norbu as their choice of the Panchen Lama are solely politically motivated acts aimed at controlling the selection of the next Dalai Lama and legitimizing its illegal occupation of Tibet. The incommunicado detention of the 11th Panchen Lama by the PRC for the past 27 years constitutes a gross violation of multiple human rights protected by various international treaties and laws, many of which China is legally obliged to respect, promote, and protect.

“The Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) of the Central Tibetan Administration extends heartfelt prayers for the well-being of the 11th Panchen Lama on his 35th birthday. Also, we would like to thank the governments, parliaments, NGOs, the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, Buddhists and individuals all over the world for sharing the collective grief and concern over the long-term disappearance of the Panchen Lama, for continuously pressing the PRC government to uphold its constitutional guarantees and international obligations and for urging the government of the PRC to immediately release of the Panchen Lama and his family. We also call upon the PRC government to respect the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people and immediately stop the practice of enforced disappearance of Tibetan religious leaders and influential individuals in the community. As long as China does not provide credible information regarding the Panchen Lama and immediately release him, his family and Chadrel Rinpoche to freedom, we will continue to advocate internationally to hold China accountable for one of the greatest disrespect to Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan peoples’ religious freedom and belief,” remarked Mr Karma Choeying, Secretary of the DIIR.

-Filed by the UN, EU and the Human Right Desk, Tibet Advocacy Section, DIIR

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