Dharamshala: The 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, one of the highest Tibetan spiritual leaders after the Dalai Lama, who has been missing since the age of six turns 31 today. He was abducted along with the rest of his family by the Chinese government on 17 May 1995, three days after he was recognised as the incarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In commemoration of missing Panchen Lama’s 31st birthday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today renewed its call for the Chinese government to release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, one of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience. On May 15, 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose the then six-year-old Gedhun to be the 11th Panchen Lama. Three days later, Chinese authorities kidnapped him and his family. He has not been seen or heard from since.
“The Chinese government is so desperate to stifle Tibetan Buddhism that it kidnapped a six-year-old boy,” noted USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza, who advocates for Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. “Unfortunately, Gedhun’s tragic plight represents the struggles of millions of Chinese believers to practice their faith in the face of an unprecedented crackdown.”
“Saturday, April 25 will be Panchen Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s 31st birthday,” added USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee, who has advocated for his freedom for four years now. “The Panchen Lama of Tibet has been kept isolated since he was a child and denied the opportunity to live a normal life. We urge the Chinese government to show a video evidence of his safety during this COVID-19 pandemic out of human dignity and free the Panchen Lama immediately.”
U.S. Representative James McGovern also advocates on behalf of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project.
In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF called on the administration to use its authority under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the International Religious Freedom Act to impose targeted sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for severe religious freedom violations, especially Chen Quanguo, the current Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang and former Secretary for Tibet.
In February 2020, USCIRF released a factsheet explaining how the Chinese government’s new Regulation for Religious Groups could further restrict religious freedom.