Dharamshala — April 25, 2016 marks the 27th birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama who was taken into Chinese custody on May 17, 1995 at age six, three days after His Holiness the Dalai Lama named him as the Panchen Lama.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima— one of Tibet's most important spiritual leaders has not been seen in public ever since. Tibetans in Dharamshala Monday observed his 27th birthday with mixed feelings that brings both joy and pain to their hearts, as they noted the lack of any concrete proof from the Chinese government over the well being and whereabouts of the young lama who has been missing for more than two decades.
"Tibetans living inside and outside across the world commemorate His Birthday by recollecting the unparalleled gratitude of Panchen lineages and memorial ceremony of current Panchen Rinpoche Gedhun Choekyi Nyima," the two Tibetan NGOs said in a joint statement.
"We are fortunate to have you in our life yet it is heart breaking that we have been unable to celebrate your birthday in your presence. We nevertheless will keep marching forward and stand beside you-my Lama Rinpoche," said Wangden Kyab, President of the RTYC Dharamshala.
"The world does not know whether he is live or not, his whereabouts and what he is doing since his recognition by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Today on his 27th Birthday, we urge Chinese government to make transparency about him," said Dolma Yangchen President of the RTWA.
During the ceremony, the RTWA also organised signature campaigns in McLeod Ganj and they urged all Tibetans and Tibet supporters to celebrate the April 25th, 2016."
Tibetans, Tibet supporters, human rights organisations and world governments have consistently urged China to release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, but these appeals continue to go unheeded.
For more than two decades the Chinese authorities have denied requests from governments and the United Nations for access to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family, claiming that he was leading a normal life and does not wish to be disturbed.
The regime in Beijing also has consistently denied access to the Pachen Lama and his family, provided very little information about his circumstances. An official from Tibet earlier in March 2010 said that the young boy was living with his family and having a "very good life" somewhere in Tibet. He, however, gave no further details.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, one of the highest-ranking spiritual leaders in Tibet. The previous Panchen Lama (Lobsang Trinley Lhundrup Choekyi Gyaltsen) spoke out against Chinese rule many times and wrote a report chronicling Tibet's famines in the 1960s. As a result, he spent more than eight years in jail and died in suspicious circumstances in 1989.
China ordered the abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery, Chadrel Rinpoche, to head the search for the Panchen Lama's reincarnation. He duly sent a list of possible candidates to Dharamshala, India, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in exile, and on 15 May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that Gedhun had been recognised as the 11th Panchen Lama.
However, the Chinese government rejected His Holiness the Dalai Lama's candidate as "illegal and invalid" and on 17 May 1995, the authorities abducted the child and his family. Chadrel Rinpoche and his assistant Jampa Chung were then arrested and served six-year and four-year sentences respectively for "selling state secrets" and "colluding with separatist forces abroad".
Six months after Gedhun's abduction, China announced that it had selected a Tibetan boy called Gyaltsen Norbu to become the Panchen Lama. Since his selection, Gyaltsen, who lives in Beijing, has only rarely visited Tibet. His visits are carefully stage managed and heavily policed and Tibetans still refer to him as the 'Panchen Zuma', or 'false Panchen'.
Gyaltsen Norbu is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top advisory body to China's government and a senior figure in China's state-run Buddhist Association. In a speech in 2015, he vowed to uphold "national unity" - the Chinese government's term for opposing any change in Tibet's status.