His Holiness the Panchen Lama, who is one of the most important Tibetan spiritual leaders, was taken into custody by Chinese authorities when he was just six, along with his whole family. Tibetans, Tibet Supporters, and Buddhists all over the world are deeply concerned about his well-being
The international community have been wilfully misled by the Chinese authorities over the whereabouts and wellbeing of His Holiness Gedchun Choekyi Nyima and his family members. A standard uniformed response by Beijing has been that he is a “perfectly ordinary boy” in “protective custody”, that his parents “did not want to be disturbed” and that he has an “excellent state of health”.
Despite these hollow claims, the Chinese government has failed to provide any evidence, they continue to rebuff any requests from UN human rights mechanisms including the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief or any other international body to allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the wellbeing of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.
China’s abysmal human rights record has been further highlighted with this illegal forced disappearance. It 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.
Regarded by many Tibetans as the true incarnation on the 10th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, his disappearance proves China’s continued violation of the right to the freedom of religious worship and practice in Tibet.
The collective right to freedom and religious belief of the Tibetan people has also been breached. China’s actions have created a spiritual void that cannot be filed by their political replacement; the void has only contributed to the weakening of the social, moral and spiritual fabric of Tibetan life.
Apart from the questionable actions of the Chinese government over the special treatment of such an “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.
At the age of 24, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is no longer a minor, therefore no longer needs to be kept under “protective custody”, according to both Chinese and International Law.
Many Tibetans and Tibetan organisations including The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, the Tibetan Women’s Association and the National Democratic Party of Tibet have written press statements calling 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.
They also reiterate their calls to the PRC to allow an independent figure to visit Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and verify his health and living conditions. As well as this they urge 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.
"We urge Chinese government to release the Panchen Lama so that he will be reunited with his family and thousands of followers who have been waiting for his release for the last 18 years. We also urge the Chinese government to release all the prisoners of conscience." said Tashi Dolma, President of the Tibetan Women's Association.
"The Chinese government's intention behind appointing their own 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu is but to take over the political, financial and cultural powers that come with being the head of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery,” said Gang Lhamo, General Secretary of Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet. "Forced to become the 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu has to act and live a life, not chosen for by himself. Tibetans in Tibet have to recognize and worship him under duress. These actions not only highlight the lack of freedom and human rights, but also how the Chinese government undermines and insults Tibetan people's tradition, culture and religion."
On the morning of April 25, the birthday of the Panchen Lama a gathering of Tibetans prayed for his release and burned incense in Lhagyalri, Dharamshala, India.