Gedhun Choekyi Nyima the XIth Panchen Lama turns 18: Still disappeared

TCHRD, April 25, 2007

Beijing, China -- Today, 25 April 2007, marks the 18th birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima- the XIth Panchen Lama of Tibet who along with his parents has been missing for the past twelve years.

In the last decade numerous governments and independent organizations have pressed the authorities in Beijing to disclose the whereabouts and well being of Panchen Lama and his family. Regrettably, the authorities have so far given various excuses for denying access to the Panchen Lama and his family.

Last year in reply to questions submitted by Reuters, the State Council Information Office said China had not arranged meetings between the boy and foreign organizations or media out of respect for the family's wishes not to be disturbed. Similarly, since 1997, China has failed to provide written document as demanded by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the Commission on Human Rights to support China’s claim that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family wished not to be disturbed by outsiders.
Moreover, in September 2005, Chinese authorities informed the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is in "good health and just like any other children is leading a normal, happy life and receiving a good cultural education".

A year later, in an official communication from China claimed to a UN rights expert that Gedhun Choekyi is not the Panchen Lama but "merely an ordinary Tibetan child" but China has persistently refused an independent expert to visit him in order to confirm his welfare and well-being.

In the latest initiative, human rights group, Amnesty International raised concern about the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama with the Chinese government and asked the Chinese authorities to allow him freedom of movement. In addition, this year during the UN Human Rights Council meeting a joint statement was made by 15 NGOs describing the disappearance of the XIth Panchen Lama of Tibet a continuous crime.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour, raised the case of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to the Chinese authorities during an official visit to China from 29 August- 2 September 2005.

Likewise, the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and Belief, Ms.
Asma Jahangir, on 9 January 2005 raised her concern, “about the grave interference with the freedom of belief of the Tibetan Buddhists who have the right to determine their clergy in accordance with their own rites and who have been deprived of their religious leader.”

Last year, the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance of the UN Commission on Human Rights stated that it “would appreciate being provided by the Government of China with documents supporting its statement that he and his parents had appealed to the Government for protection and at present are “leading normal lives and enjoying perfect health.”

The People's Republic of China (PRC) 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 continued detention of Panchen Lama is a clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as domestic and international laws. It also indicates the persistent religious repression inside Tibet. It is a matter of great concern that such prominent religious figure is denied and bereft of any traditional religious studies and training according to Tibet's religion and culture.

On 14 May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that the then six-years old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Xth Panchen Lama. Three days later, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents disappeared and have never been seen again. Beijing authorities were quick to refute the proclamation, and on 24 May 1995 issued a statement describing the Dalai Lama’s proclamation as “illegal and invalid.” China’s response to the Dalai Lama’s selection of the Panchen Lama has been to denounce the legitimacy of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and proclaim another child to be the real incarnation – an unprecedented and bizarre act of the officially atheist state. Shortly after this announcement Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family are reported to have been disappeared and since then there has been no credible information on their whereabouts and well-being for the past twelve years and it still remains a major concern.

In addition, Chadrel Rinpoche, a former abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery seat of Panchen Lama, and Chairman of the Search Committee for the reincarnation of the XIth Panchen Lama 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 XIth Panchen Lama.

Although his sentence ended on 13 May 2001 following the completion of a six-year prison term, there is no credible information on his whereabouts or on his state of health. Jampa Chungla, a former assistant of Chadrel Rinpoche, was arrested in 1995 for his participation in the search committee of the XIth Panchen Lama. He was sentenced to a four- year prison term and to a two-year deprivation of political rights. There is also no information on Champa Chungla after the completion of his original four-year prison term.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is gravely concerned at the continued disappearance and detention of the Panchen Lama and his parents and appeals for their unconditional release. TCHRD urges the International bodies to pressure the Beijing authorities to ascertain their whereabouts and well-being and to allow the relevant UN bodies to meet the Panchen Lama. The PRC should also ensure that the religious freedom of the Tibetan people be respected including their rights to identify religious leaders.

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