Gedhun Choekyi was six years old when he was kidnapped. Since then, he has been held incommunicado. This week Tibetans marked his 28th birthday. Beijing seeks to impose itself on the future of Tibetan Buddhism, but Tibetans demand the lama’s release.
Dharamsala (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tibetan religious leaders marked the Panchen Lama’s 28th birthday on Tuesday.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has been held incommunicado for the past 22 years ago after Chinese authorities abducted him and his family in 1995 when he was identified by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, who is tasked with finding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
Held since he was six, Nyima has been called the youngest prisoner of consciousness in history.
A Beijing-backed candidate, Gyaincain Norbu, was then installed by China in his place, and remains unpopular among Tibetans.
Nothing is known about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s fate since he vanished. Requests by the United Nations and other international agencies and human rights organisations to visit him have consistently been refused by Beijing.
Two years ago, a Chinese official said that the Panchen Lama "is living a normal life and does not want to be disturbed."
In an open letter released on Tuesday, the Panchen Lama’s birthday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom commissioner Tenzin Dorjee chose words that spoke directly to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, voicing his sadness that the missing Panchen Lama may never read his words.
“Ever since you were abducted as a young child at the age of six, the Chinese government has refused to share even basic information about you and your whereabouts,” Dorjee’s letter reads.
“Please know that I think about you every day, and as each year passes, my resolve to find you and restore you to your rightful role becomes stronger.”
In a statement this week, the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said that “The continued detention of the Panchen Lama in secret is an act of enforced disappearance.
For the TCHRD, this “is a serious international crime that violates multiple human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other major international human rights instruments”.
The selection of reincarnate lamas in Tibetan areas of China is now subject to approval by Beijing, with high-ranking religious teachers often cultivated by the government as “patriotic lamas” – politically reliable figures who will not call for Tibetan independence from Chinese rule.
China is now keen to engineer a process that produces a pro-Beijing monk as the next Dalai Lama when the present holder of the title, now 81, eventually passes away.
For his part, the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, reacted to Beijing’s interference by saying that he might be the last Dalai Lama.
In fact, “Without any recognition from the Dalai Lama, the Chinese authorities can never be able to put the stamp of legitimacy to their selection of any religious leader, whether it is the Panchen Lama or a future Dalai Lama,” Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in an April 25 statement.
“China might want to have its own version of Rule by Incarnation,” Tsering added. “But it is the will of the believers that will really matter.” And “The earlier the Chinese authorities realize this, the better it will be for them.”