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Tibet’s Stolen Spiritual Leader Turns 24: China must end enforced disappearance of Tibet’s Panchen Lama

Tibet's XIth Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
Tibet’s XIth Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibet’s XIth Panchen Lama, one of the most important Tibetan spiritual leaders, turns 24 today under house arrest. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born on 25 April 1989 in Lhari County in Nagchu, Tibet. It is his 18th year in Chinese custody at an undisclosed location after he and his parents disappeared in 1995. He was only six years old when he was disappeared by the Chinese authorities.

For about 18 years, the Chinese authorities have wilfully misled the international community on the actual whereabouts and wellbeing of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family members, almost always sticking to the standard, unverifiable response that the “perfectly ordinary boy” is in “protective custody”, growing up in “excellent state of health” and that his parents “did not want to be disturbed”. But the Chinese government has failed to substantiate such hollow reassurances with concrete evidences, and has continued to rebuff any requests from UN human rights mechanisms and other international bodies to allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the wellbeing of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

The ongoing enforced disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family has further tainted China’s abysmal human rights record. Enforced disappearance is a crime. Every enforced disappearance violates a range of human rights including the right to security and dignity of person; the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to humane conditions of detention; the right to a legal personality; right to a fair trial; right to a family life and the right to life.

The forced disappearance of Panchen Lama violates Tibetan people’s collective right to freedom of religion and belief. The spiritual void China created by Panchen Lama’s disappearance cannot be filled by political replacement; the void has only contributed to the weakening of the social, moral and spiritual fabric of Tibetan life.  Faith should not be politicised by a spiritually ignorant regime.

It begs explanation why the Chinese government would go to such lengths to provide ‘security’ for a child who they consider to be just ‘ordinary’ boy. Article 34 of the Chinese Constitution stipulates that any person who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to fundamental rights such as the right to religious belief, education and occupation. Therefore, the continuing Chinese custody of Panchen Lama also violates the fundamental rights enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is now 24 years old, no longer a minor to be kept under “protective custody”, according to both Chinese and International Law. He has a right to live as a normal citizen under the Chinese Constitution. Since Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is widely regarded by many Tibetans as the true incarnation of the Xth Panchen Lama, the Chinese government should allow him to be who he is and what Tibetan people think of him. China’s continuing incommunicado detention of Panchen Lama is the most explicit proof of its government undermining and violating the freedom of religious worship and practice in Tibet.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) calls on China to release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima immediately and unconditionally; this could become one of the most convincing reassurances China could ever provide to demonstrate that it respects religious rights of the Tibetan people. TCHRD reiterates its call to the PRC to allow an independent figure to visit Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and verify his health and living conditions. TCHRD urges the international community to put strong, sustained pressure on the Chinese government to account for the disappeared and to uphold the rights and liberties of the Tibetan people.



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