Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet: still disappeared

The year 2005 has been declared as the International Year of Gedhun Choekyi  Nyima the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet. He turns 16 on 25  April 2005. It is his tenth year in Chinese custody at an undisclosed  location after he and his parents disappeared in 17 May 1995.

On 14 May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognised the then six-years  old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Xth Panchen Lama. The  government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) declared the announcement  invalid and illegal. Three days later, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents disappeared and have never been seen again. China has signed the United  Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on 29 August 1990 and ratified  it on 2 March 1992. China’s detention of boy Panchen Lama is a clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as domestic and international Laws. 

In October 2000 a British delegation was told by the Chinese authorities that the boy was well and attending school. They said that his parents did not want international figures and the media intruding into his life. Two photographs claimed to be of the Panchen Lama were shown to the British delegation showing a boy of approximately the same age. However it was  impossible to determine the boy’s identity or location, and the British  officials were not given the photos to ascertain.

In August 2001, a Polish Parliamentary delegation visiting Lhasa was told in response to repeated questions that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was healthy; the delegation was promised photos of the boy within six weeks but never received them. Later, the Polish Government received a letter from the Chinese embassy in Warsaw stating that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents did not want their peaceful life disturbed by strangers, and that the Chinese government “respects freedom of choice for its citizens and hopes that the Polish people would understand that too.”

In March 2002, a government delegation from the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) met with a European Parliament delegation and the authorities once again reiterated that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima did not wish to be disturbed. The “TAR” delegation refused to answer questions about photographs promised to the Polish delegation. In the light of a refusal to provide photographs that positively identify Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, or to allow independent access to the boy and his family, the Tibetan people can only fear the worst.

The continued disappearance of Panchen Lama in the Tibetan hierarchy completely contradicts China’s claim to respect religious freedom in Tibet. It is a matter of great concern that such prominent religious figure is denied and bereft of any traditional religious studies and training even if he is alive.

For the past ten years since his abduction and disappearance along with his parents, no information on their whereabouts and well being were known to international bodies and human rights watchdogs. Chadrel Rinpoche, a former abbot of Tashi Lhunpo monastery seat of Panchen Lama, and Chairman of the Search Committee for the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama. Chadrel Rinpoche and his assistant Champa Chungla disappeared from Chengdu Airport in Sichuan Province on 14 May 1995. On 21 April 1997, the Shigatse
Intermediate People’s court sentenced Chadrel Rinpoche to six years of imprisonment. He was charged with “plotting to split the country” and “leaking state secrets”. He was accused of working for and assisting the Dalai Lama in the search for the 11th Panchen Lama. Although his sentence ended on 13 May 2001 following the completion of a six-year prison term, it  is believed that he is now kept under house arrest. There is no additional information on his exact whereabouts in Shigatse, or on his state of health.  Jampa Chungla, 56-year-old former assistant of Chadrel Rinpoche, was arrested in 1995 for his participation in the search committee of the 11th Panchen Lama. He was sentenced to a four- year prison term and to a two-year deprivation of political rights. He continues to be held in custody even after the completion of his original four-year prison term.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is deeply concerned at the Chinese government’s continued detention of a 15-year-oldboy. In the wake of subsequent failures of past independent bodies to meet the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, TCHRD urges the United Nations and its various thematic bodies to pressure Chinese Government to allow Committee on Rights of the Child to meet Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to verify his health and living conditions. Hence, TCHRD appeals for unconditional release
of Panchen Lama and his family.

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