DHARAMSALA, Apr 21: The Central Tibetan Administration today called upon the international community and Tibet supporters worldwide to join Tibetans in an appeal for the release of 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, one of the most revered religious leaders in Tibet on the 20th anniversary of his disappearance which coincides with the International Solidarity Day with Tibet on May 17, 2015.
At a press briefing held today in Dharamsala, Spokesperson for Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Mr Tashi Phuntsok briefed the media on CTA’s appeal for release of the Panchen Lama and initiatives surrounding the appeal.
“17 May 2015 is to coincide with the anniversary of the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, one of the most revered religious leaders in Tibet. The Central Tibetan Administration calls upon the international community to join us in an appeal for his release. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of his gone missing at age six. Till date, his whereabouts and well-being remain unknown,” Mr Phuntsok said.
“The case of the Panchen Lama is not only the story of an innocent six-year old child disappearing for 20 years, but also a blatant symptom of political repression and lack of religious freedom. The enforced disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama is a vivid case of China’s aggression against Tibetan people by hijacking a centuries-old traditional Buddhist practice of reincarnation for political ends.” Mr Phuntsok added.
The Tibetan administration in its appeal letter called upon Tibetans, Tibet Support Groups and friends of Tibet across the world to observe the day by holding commemorative activities in their respective local community (e.g prayer service, candlelight vigil, talk about Tibet and the Panchen Lama), write appeal letters to their respective government and elected representatives to press China for the release of the Panchen Lama and all Tibetan political prisoners and to contact the local media for coverage of their commemorative activity.
The CTA also urged Tibet supporters to call for release of Panchen Lama and all Tibetan political prisoners through different channels including social media. The campaign’s Facebook handle is “solidarity with tibet” and hashtag is #Releasepanchenlama.
“In occupied Tibet, an atheist Chinese government has aggressively been attempting to legitimize its control over the centuries-old Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation practice. In this context, and given his crucial cultural and religious role, it is critical that the 11th Panchen Lama receives a spiritual upbringing that is free from political interference,” CTA said in the appeal letter.
CTA in its appeal letter said the recent wave of self-immolation protests from inside Tibet reflect the Tibetan people’s categorical rejection of the People’s Republic of China’s policies in Tibet.
“Tibetans have suffered and continue to do so under Chinese occupation and oppression. Political repression, cultural assimilation, environmental destruction, economic marginalization and lack of religious freedom have led to waves of protests, including 138 self-immolations since 2009. They reflect the Tibetan people’s categorical rejection of the People’s Republic of China’s policies in Tibet,” CTA states in its appeal letter.
The latest Tibetan self-immolator, Ney Kyab, who staged his fiery protest on Apr 16 in Ngaba County in the traditional Tibetan Province of Amdo, had also called for the release of Panchen Lama and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
On 14 May 1995, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, aged six, was recognised by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. Within three days of the announcement, he was abducted making him one of the youngest political prisoners in the world. Declaring his case an enforced disappearance in April 2011, the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances held China responsible for his disappearance and stated that the Chinese authorities have “continually refused to divulge any information about him or his whereabouts, making his case an enforced disappearance”.
The Panchen Lama’s disappearance has attracted international attention due to his young age. Arbitrary detention and sentencing in prison without due process is common in Tibet today. According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, there are currently over 2,000 Tibetan political prisoners.
At various times and places in Tibet’s history, the Panchen Lama’s lineage has played a vital role in Tibetan society. The 10th Panchen Lama in particular, played a significant role in preserving Tibetan culture, tradition and language.