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Free Tibet religious leader Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

Updated: Oct 3, 2020


US Asks For Meeting with Tibet’s Detained Panchen Lama

RFA 21 May 2020


The U.S. government would like to meet in person with Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who vanished into Chinese custody as a young boy 25 years ago this week and has not been heard from since, a State Department spokesman told RFA on Thursday.


“This Administration would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Panchen Lama in person,” the spokesman said, noting that only Beijing so far knows the answers to questions asked around the world about the circumstances of the high-ranking religious leader’s detention since 1995.


“We urge the PRC government to release immediately the details of the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts, which have remained unknown since his forced disappearance by Chinese authorities in 1995,” the spokesman said.


Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.


The recognition by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.


Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other respected religious leaders are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.


The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing meanwhile remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.


Thursday’s U.S. statement came at the end of a week of exchanges between the U.S. and China, with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on May 18 calling on China to make public the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts, and a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry saying next day that the now 31-year-old Panchen is a college graduate who “now has a job” and wishes with his family not to be disturbed in their “normal life.”


“The Panchen Lama is one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism with spiritual authority second only to the Dalai Lama,” the State Department said on Thursday.


“We again urge the PRC government to cease interfering in the right of the Tibetans to select, educate, and venerate their own religious leaders. All faith communities share this right, and it must be respected,” the State Department said.


Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.



Tibet’s Detained Panchen Lama Must ‘Speak For Himself’: Rights Group

RFA 19 May 2020


Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who vanished into Chinese custody as a young boy 25 years ago this week, must be allowed to speak for himself, ending international uncertainty over his whereabouts and condition, a Washington-based Tibet support group said on Tuesday.


“The Panchen Lama is now an adult, and according to the Chinese Constitution the Chinese government has to respect his personal dignity,” the International Campaign for Tibet said, adding, “The 31-year old Panchen Lama should be given his constitutional right to speak for himself.”


The ICT statement came in response to a statement Tuesday by China’s Foreign Ministry that the missing religious figure “now has a job” and wishes with his family to be left alone and out of the public eye.


China’s statement came in apparent response to a call on May 18 by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for Beijing to make public “the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and to uphold its own constitution and international commitments to promote religious freedom for all persons.”


"Tibetan Buddhists, like members of all faith communities, must be able to select, educate, and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference," Pompeo added, calling the Panchen Lama second in spiritual authority only to exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.


Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.


The recognition by the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.


Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.


The whereabouts of the Dalai Lama’s choice of Panchen Lama remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance.


The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing meanwhile remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.


China has not allowed anyone to meet or speak to the Panchen Lama following his disappearance, “fueling fears and speculations as to whether he is still alive,” ICT said in its May 19 statement.


“The Chinese government should now follow up on today’s statement by both allowing the Panchen Lama to speak for himself freely and without restrictions, and by allowing an international and independent investigation to ascertain what happened to him after he disappeared over 25 years ago,” ICT said.


Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.



Tibetan Monk Dies After Living Two Years With Torture Injuries Sustained in Custody

RFA 24 April 2020


A Tibetan monk who ran afoul of Chinese authorities in 2017 for sharing messages from the exiled Dalai Lama has passed away, after spending the last few years in bad health from the torture he experienced while in custody as a political prisoner that year, RFA has learned.

Gendun Sherab is believed to have died on April 18, according to a Tibetan source who requested anonymity for legal reasons.


“[He] was arrested three years ago on the charge of sharing and disseminating politically sensitive documents on WeChat and social media,” the source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

The shared document was “a recognition letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama regarding the reincarnation of [religious figure] Choedon Rinpoche from Sera Je Lhopa Khantsen,” he added.


The source said that Gendun Sherab had been placed on a Chinese government watchlist after being expelled from the Rabten monastery in Sog county (in Chinese Suǒ) as a suspect for his controversial political views.


“While in custody his captors severely tortured him and he was not even allowed to seek medical treatment from hospitals afterwards,” the source said.


“The authorities held him in a detention center in Lhasa for three months, during which they beat him severely. The torture was so bad that he could not even move his body and was unable to speak,” the source added.


The monk was released by the authorities after suffering life-threatening injuries, according to the source.


“They only let him go because it was pretty clear he was about to die,” said the source.

“But since they deprived him of all his political rights, effectively blacklisting him, he was unable to be admitted into any hospitals to seek care. So instead he left Lhasa quickly and secretly sought treatment through traditional Tibetan medicine in his home,” the source said.


But the traditional treatments did not help much, according to the source, so Gendun Sherab lived about two more years with the injuries he sustained from torture, until his death at age 50 at his home in Barkal village in Sog county’s Rongpo township.  His father’s name was Gyaljig.


A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India.

Chinese authorities now maintain a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identities, and subjecting Tibetans to imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial killings.


Reported by Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Eugene Whong.



Further references:

RFA 12 September 2020. Tibetan School Year Begins Under New Restrictions, Mandarin-only Instruction







Tibet's Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, is shown in an undated photo from the 1990s.

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