04/25/2009, 00.00
TIBET - CHINA - INDIA
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Panchen Lama turns 20. For 14 years, he has been a hostage of the Chinese government

by Nirmala Carvalho
Tibetans are celebrating the birthday according to Buddhist tradition, praying for his "safety" and wishing him "long life." A minister of the Tibetan government in exile denounces the "violation of religious freedom" by the Beijing authorities. A question that concerns "the entire international community."

Dharamsala (AsiaNews) - He turns 20 years old today, but for 14 years there has been no news about what has happened to him. He became the youngest political prisoner in history when, in 1995, Chinese authorities kidnapped him because "the Dalai Lama had recognized him as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama," the second most important position in Tibetan Buddhism. Mystery still surrounds Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, born on April 25, 1989, in Lhari, near Lhasa, and a hostage in the hands of Beijing since he was six years old.

After the death of the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama has the task of recognizing the new reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, recognized the young Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama on May 14, 1995. A few days later, the police kidnapped the six-year-old boy and his family, who have not been seen since in spite of repeated requests from the United Nations and international organizations to at least be allowed to meet with them. In November of 1995, China "selected" Gyaltsen Norbu as the "true" Panchen Lama, in order to establish tight control over religious practice in the region.

"The Panchem Lama and his family were abducted by the Chinese government on May 17, 1995," denounces Tsering Phuntsok, minister for religious affairs of the Tibetan government in exile. "Their whereabouts till today are not known." He turns 20 years old today, and the Tibetans in exile intend to celebrate the birthday "according to Buddhist tradition," praying for his "safety" and wishing him "long life." Tsering Phuntsok explains that his kidnapping is not only "a Tibetan question," but "international." "It is a grave violation of human rights and freedom of religion," he continues, "and these importantly since the tender age of six years, he is unheard of - his freedom are denied and the basic freedom and rights due to any human person are denied to him."

The minister for religious affairs attacks the Chinese government, which is afraid of freeing the true Panchen Lama because he is "recognized by the Dalai Lama," and asks what kind of "education in religious freedom" he could receive from a communist regime that violates human rights. "Freedom of religion is being denied to him, and this denial of religious freedom is a serious international issue."

Finally, Tibetans issue an appeal for the liberation of all Tibetans abducted by the Chinese authorities. As of today, there are more than 1,000 people who have disappeared, after being taken away by the Chinese army sent to the region in March of 2008 to put down the revolt of the monks.

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