Tibet: world calls for the release of the Panchen Lama

The Tibetan diaspora and the international community want China to provide information about the Panchen Lama, now a young man of 31. Abducted by Beijing 25 years ago, he has not been seen ever since. China has no plans to leave religion in the hands of believers. "We can only pray” for his health and his release, a source told AsiaNews.

Dharamshala (AsiaNews) – Tibetans around the world and the international community marked the 31st birthday of the Panchen Lama by again calling on the Chinese government to free him.

The religious leader, considered the Number 2 in Tibetan Buddhism, has been held in an unknown place for more than 25 years by order of Beijing.

“All we can do is pray for his physical and mental health. We hope that he will be freed as soon as possible,” an anonymous Tibetan source told AsiaNews.

Chinese authorities seized Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family on 17 May 1995, three days after the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, recognised him at the age of six (pictured: as a child, left, a computer-generated image, right).

Within Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama is important, among other things, because he has the task of recognising the rebirth of the Dalai Lama after his death.

“Amidst the increasing spread of the coronavirus around the globe, we are ever more worried about his health,” said Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“We insist that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately release a televised statement on the well-being of the Panchen Lama and confirm that he is alive. The world community must also insist that China immediately release the Panchen Lama.”

Supporters of the Tibetan cause in the European Parliament and the Japanese Diet have expressed similar views. However, the United States remains the most important ally for the Buddhist diaspora.

In January, the House of Representatives approved a bill calling on the US government to boost its support for the Tibetan people. Now the draft is before the Senate. If signed into law, it will require China to allow the opening of a US consulate in Tibet’s capital Lhasa before any new Chinese consulate can open in the United States.

“We have no news about the Panchen Lama, but we always pray for him and the Dalai Lama,” said a Tibetan source, anonymous for security reasons, speaking to AsiaNews.

“In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tibetan cause is certainly not at the top of the agenda of world leaders.” However, “We hope things will change soon and that religious freedom will return to Tibet.”

The Panchen Lama’s abduction shows how far China’s Communist regime is willing to go to meddle with Tibetan Buddhism. Selecting reincarnated lamas in Tibet’s sinicised regions has required Beijing’s approval for quite a while.

Teachers chosen from among “patriotic lamas” get higher status, whilst pro-government monks do not call for Tibetan independence.

By seizing the Panchen Lama, Beijing wants to pick the monk who will replace the current Dalai Lama after his death.

Reacting to Beijing's interference, the current holder of the office, Tenzin Gyatso, suggested that he could either be the last Dalai Lama or his reincarnation could be selected by a conclave of top Buddhist abbots in the diaspora.