(TibetanReview.net, Apr26’22) – It has been 27 years since the 11th Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most prominent religious figure after the Dalai Lama, was taken away by the Chinese government as a six-year-old, with his family, to be never seen or heard from ever since. It was meant to punish the boy for having been recognized by the Dalai Lama without consulting Beijing.
And on his 33rd birthday on Apr 25, the exile Tibetan administration and a number of Tibet groups and supporters have issued calls for information on him and his immediate release. The US state Department issued a press statement for the occasion.
“Today marks the 33rd birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, who remains missing since PRC authorities abducted him as a six-year-old child on May 17, 1995. The PRC continues to deny members of the Tibetan community access to the Dalai Lama-designated Panchen Lama, the second most revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism, and instead continues to promote a state-selected proxy”, said Mr Ned Price, the Spokesperson of the State Department.
This referred to China’s appointment of Gyaltsen Norbu as its replacement for Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama, who has since been made a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a vice president of the Buddhist Association of China, and the President of the latter’s Tibet Autonomous Region branch.
Price has further said: “The United States supports Tibetans’ religious freedom and their unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity, including Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs and without government interference.”
In its statement for the occasion, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) said, “the world had not forgotten about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, despite China’s efforts to erase him from our history.” It called on the Chinese government “to rightfully allow the Panchen Lama and his family to live a free life they are entitled to under the international laws and treaties that China is obligated to.”
It also reiterated its earlier appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to make a visit to Tibet along with Xinjiang in May this year to assess the real human rights situation in Tibet and particularly to press China to release information on the current status and whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family.
Sikyong Penpa Tsering of the CTA, who is presently visiting the US on an invitation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also took up the issue in a courtesy call to US Special Coordinator for Tibetans issue, Ms Uzra Zeya. He also called on the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Mr Rashad Hussain, to celebrate the Panchen Lama’s birth anniversary.