On 14 May 1995, His Holiness The Dalai Lama announced the discovery of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a six year old boy from Lhari in Nagchu, northeastern Tibet, as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second highest spiritual figure.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is believed to have seen escorted to Beijing by Chinese security forces from his home within days of the announcement. The Chinese government subsequently rejected the Dalai Lama’s authority to select the reincarnation and on 8 December 1995 enthroned a different child, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the official Panchen Lama.
Youngest Political Prisoner
The People’ s Republic of China admitted for the first time on 28 May 1996 that it is holding the missing Tibetan child and his family first disappearance and following 12 months of denial by Beijing.
China’s announcement came in response to a formal question by the United Nations Committee for the Rights of the Child which met in May 1996 to consider whether the PRC has compiled with its legal obligations under the Convention for the Rights of the Child to which the PRC is a State Party.
Beijing said the child was being held to prevent him from being kidnapped. “He has been put under the protection of the government at the request of his parents” , PRC’s Permanent Representatives to the UN in Geneva, Wu Jianmin, said.
According to the Official Chinese News Agency, Mr. Jianmin said, “The boy was at risk of being kidnapped by separatists and his security had been threatened”, but did not reveal why the government had not previously admitted that it was holding the child nor where the child and his family are being held. No independent observer had had access to them since they were last seen in May 1995.
The UN committee’s Vice Chairman described the Chinese statement as “not very positive when it comes to finding a peaceful solution to this conflict”, and its Rapporteur supported a request that the PRC allow a UN representative to “visit the family and provide assurance.” There has been no public response by the PRC to the request thus far.
The effects of the Panchen Lama dispute continued throughout 1996 in Tibet. At midnight on 15 March 1996, four student monks were taken from their quarters in Kumbum monastery in Qinghai province (which includes most of the Tibetan region of Amdo) by a squad of 13 police.
Damchoe Gyatso(27), Jigme Tendar (29), Phuntsok(25) and Damchoe Kalden (31), believed to be still in detention, were accused of producing pro-independence posters and leaflets containing prayers for the long life for the Panchen Lama whose birthplace is about 75 km from Kumbum. The handwritten posters condemned China’s intervention in the Panchen Lama succession and the writers promised to oppose any attempt to bring the “fake reincarnation” – the child named by the Chinese government as the official reincarnation – to Kumbum, where the previous Dalai Lama has been enthroned.
In total there were 48 persons detained for involvement in the case of the reincarnated Panchen Lama. These cases were referred to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in September 1995, Working Group to the PRC government. The PRC government claimed, in its reply received in May 1996, that Chinese authorities had scrupulously adhered to the sentiments of the Tibetan people and the religious rites of Tibetan Buddhism in their choice of Panchen Lama.
They criticized the Dalai Lama as having “confounded every established procedure by unilaterally proclaiming his own choice of the reincarnated child” and said, “Fortunately this irregularity was quickly denounced by the central government.” The Dalai Lama’s proclamation was considered “illegitimate and without effect.”
The Chinese’ choice of the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama took place “strictly in accordance with religious ritual”, the governmental reply stated. “Far from undermining religious freedom, therefore, it was in fact an expression of the Chinese government’s strict observation of religious freedom.”
The Chinese government reiterated its claim that the child recognized by the Dalai Lama was in grave danger from “Tibetan separatists in exile, ever conspiring to despoil ethnic harmony, drive Tibet into turmoil and eventually split up China”, and that a few ‘unscrupulous souls” had even tried to smuggle the boy.
It was, the government stressed, “in response to the parents’ appeal to the government for protection, that security measures had been taken to protect the boy, his parents and other members of the family.” Despite giving no indication of the whereabouts of the family or the conditions under which they were being kept, the reply concluded that, “At present, they are leading normal lives and enjoying perfect health.”
Concerning the state of the detained, the PRC government supplied the following information;
- That Jampa Chung La, Samdup (businessman from Shigatse), Thupten Dakpa (layname-Gonpo) and Topgyal had been placed under investigation “for suspicion of revealing important state secrets” in violation of the Chinese Criminal Law, but that the latter two had been taken off the investigation list.
- That the following had been sentenced to prison terms “for taking part in disturbing social order and obstructing state officials from fulfilling their functions” thus violating the Criminal Law: Lobsang Tendor (layname-Tendor), Gedhun Gyatso (layname-Gedhun), Sherab Chemi (Bhuchung), Lobsang Choedak (Chungdak) and Thupten Kalsang /Shepa Kalsang (also known as Lobsang Phuntsok).
- That the following 19, previously under investigation for “disturbing social order and obstructing state officials from fulfilling their functions”, had been released: Gyatrul Lobsang Gyalpa (laynamme: Gyatrul Rinpoche, a lama from Tashilhunpo monastery), Lobsang Youden(Lhakpa Tsering) , Lobsang Nyendak (Ringkar Ngawang), Lobsang Cholang (Ngodup), Lobsang Tenzin (Tenzin), Lobsang Sherab (Sherab), Lobsang Tashi (Tashi Dhondup), Sherab Phuntsok (Tsering Phuntsok), Lobsang Phuntsok (Sonam Phuntsok), Lobsang Paljor (Lobsang Tseten), Lobsang Wangchuk (Wangchuk), Pema Dorjee, Lobsang Lungtok (Lhakpa Tsering), Lobsang Gyaltsen (Lobsang Dawa), Jampa Samten (Tsering Gonpo), Lobsang Dorjee (Dorjee Gyaltsen) were all from Tashilhunpo monastery. Lobsang Yangphel (Pema), Lobsang Tenzin (Jampa Tenzin), Lobsang Dadoi (Penpa Tsering).
The government failed to give details regarding eighteen unnamed persons reportedly detained for involvement in the case of the reincarnated Panchen Lama.
Chadrel Rinpoche was abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, and was appointed leader of the Search Committee for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama by the Chinese authorities more than six years before the Dalai Lama’s announcement.
The PRC governmental reply stated that Chadrel Rinpoche, after leaving Beijing in mid-May 1995 to return to Tibet had “suddenly taken ill and had to be hospitalized. 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.”
In contrast with this official response, Chadrel Rinpoche has reportedly been in detention since May 1995 on suspicion of having communicated with the Dalai Lama in exile regarding the choice of the reincarnation. He has been accused in newspaper articles of “manipulating religious rituals and the historical convention.”
On 22 May 1996, Chadrel Rinpoche was stripped of his membership of the sixth “TAR” CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee ) and removed t his post as Vice-Chairman because he “went against the fundamental stand of the nation and lost his political direction.” The announcement of 24 May 1996 on Radio Lhasa added that “In doing this, we have purged the CPPCC of bad elements and have made it clean…” He had already been replaced in July 1995 as head of Tashilhunpo monastery’s management committee.
A source reported that in October 1996the “TAR” United Front officials visited Chengdu, Sichuan Province headquarters and met with Chadrel Rinpoche. When asked what his expectations where Chadrel Rinpoche reportedly replied that he has no idea of his fate. He clarified that he had only worked in accordance with the Chinese government and so was not guilty. Rinpoche said, “You do not have to worry about me. I have no expectations. If I had any expectations, I would not be in this situation.”
A large number of monks have also left or been expelled from their monasteries throughout 1996 for refusing to denounce Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation. In January 1996, nine monks from a monastery in Shigatse were reportedly detained after burning pictures of seven year old Gyaltsen Norbu, a boy chosen by the Chinese authorities.