Profile: Chadrel Rinpoche – the man who found the XI Panchen Lama

Jadrel Rinpoche
Jadrel Rinpoche

Almost two years after his disappearance, Chadrel Rinpoche, the abbot of the Tashilhunpo Monastery and also the head of the Search Committee for the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama was sentenced to six years imprisonment and three years deprivation of political rights. A close disciple of the 10th Panchen Lama, Chadrel Rinpoche was appointed the head of the Search Committee by the Chinese Government, but was subsequently charged with “plotting to split the country” and “leaking state secrets” and sentenced on 21 April 1997.

Rinpoche, popularly known as Chadrel Rinpoche, was born in 1939 in a place 340 km west of Lhasa in the Namling county of the Shigatse region. In 1954, at the age of 15, he joined the Tashilhunpo Monastery located in Shigatse, southwest of Lhasa.

Chadrel Rinpoche’s ability in religious study made him a close disciple of the 10th Panchen Lama. In 1962 the Panchen Lama sent Chadrel Rinpoche to study for one year at Lhasa Shol School and then for four years in Beijing before returning to Tashilhunpo. During the Cultural Revolution Chadrel Rinpoche was forced to work in a labour camp.

On 19 August 1989, Chadrel Rinpoche was appointed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government as the head of the Search Committee for the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. From June 1994 the Chinese authorities reportedly attempted to replace Chadrel Rinpoche with Sangchen Lobsang Gyaltsen, a noted Chinese Communist Party supporter.

On the 28th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar (around February 1995), Chadrel Rinpoche and Champa Chung-la (Secretary of the Search Committee), left Tashilhunpo Monastery and took a flight from Lhoka Gonkar Airport to Beijing. There they attended the meeting of the 3rd General Meeting of the 8th CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee).

This meeting, commencing on 4 March 1995, would ordinarily last for ten days but on this occasion it was extended after Chadrel Rinpoche refused to accept China’s plan to instate its own choice of Panchen Lama. At the meeting’s end Chadrel Rinpoche was reportedly harassed and detained virtually under house arrest.

Panchen Rinpoche
Panchen Rinpoche

On 14 May 1995, the Dalai Lama officially proclaimed Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year old boy in Tibet’s northern region of Nagchu, as the next Panchen Lama. On that day Chadrel Rinpoche managed to leave Beijing enroute to Tibet, but, when the PRC government heard of the Dalai Lama’s announcement, they arrested Chadrel Rinpoche on 17 or 18 May in Chengdu and took him back to Beijing. There he was held incommunicado under house arrest, suspected of having communicated with the Dalai Lama in exile regarding the choice of the reincarnation.

On 14 July 1995 the local Religious Affairs Bureau in Shigatse issued a formal order removing Chadrel Rinpoche and other leading lamas of Tashilhunpo Monastery from their posts. Eight new pro-Chinese leaders were appointed as the new administrators of the monastery, including Sangchen Lobsang Gyaltsen as the new head.

On 22 May 1996, Chadrel Rinpoche was stripped of his membership of the Sixth ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ (‘TAR’) Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) and removed from his position as Vice-Chairman because he “went against the fundamental stand of the nation and lost his political direction”. On 24 May 1996, Radio Lhasa announced that “In doing this, we have purged the CPPCC of bad elements and have made it clean …”.

In September 1995 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention referred the cases of 48 persons detained for their involvement in the case of the reincarnated Panchen Lama, including Chadrel Rinpoche, to the PRC. The reply, when finally received in May 1996, claimed that China had “scrupulously adhered to the sentiments of the Tibetan people and the religious rites of Tibetan Buddhism in their choice of Panchen Lama”.

With regard to Chadrel Rinpoche, the PRC stated that, after leaving Beijing in mid-May 1995 to return to Tibet, he had “suddenly been taken ill and had to be hospitalised. Considering the fragile state of his health, the Managing Committee of the Tashilhunpo Monastery thought it best to relieve him of his function as Administrator. He is at present under medical care.”

On 21 April 1997, almost two years after his disappearance, Chadrel Jampa Trinlay Chadrel Rinpoche was sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court of Shigatse (Ch: Xigaze) Prefecture in the “TAR” to four years imprisonment and three years subsequent deprivation of political rights for “plotting to split the country” and three years in prison for “leaking state secrets”. The total sentence was subsequently reduced to six years imprisonment and three years deprivation of political rights.

Chadrel Rinpoche allegedly “confessed” to these charges and refused legal representation yet, quoting as the reason the involvement of ‘state secrets’, Chinese authorities closed his trial to the public. We call on the People’s Republic of China to adhere to international standards of due process in allowing Chadrel Rinpoche legal representation and the right to appeal and to provide humane conditions of detention including visits by family and friends.

If you would like to help, please contact TCHRD

to top