Tibet’s India-based exile government called this week on China to release a high-ranking religious figure taken into custody as a young child 20 years ago and held incommunicado ever since.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who would now be about 26 years old, was detained together with his family by Chinese authorities in 1995 after he was identified by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most-senior monk.
A Beijing-backed candidate, Gyaincain Norbu, was then installed by China in his place, and remains unpopular among Tibetans.
In a statement released April 21, the Dharamsala, India-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) urged supporters of Tibet around the world to join in their appeal for the young lama’s release in a coordinated effort scheduled for May.
“In observation of the International Solidarity Day with Tibet on 17 May 2015, we call upon you to extend your support for the release of the 11th Panchen Lama and all political prisoners in Tibet,” CTA said in its statement.
“This year’s International Solidarity Day with Tibet coincides with the 20th anniversary of his enforced disappearance along with his family,” CTA said.
The exile group noted in its statement that prominent human rights groups, including the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, have called on China to release information on the Panchen Lama’s present condition and whereabouts.
“However, China has turned a deaf ear to these pleas to allow contact with the Panchen Lama and continues to detain him,” CTA said.
The selection of reincarnate lamas in Tibetan areas of China is now subject to approval by Beijing, with high-ranking religious teachers often cultivated by the government as “patriotic lamas”—politically reliable figures who will not call for Tibetan independence from Chinese rule.
Chinese authorities have had difficulty persuading Tibetans to accept Gyaincain (in Tibetan, Gyaltsen) Norbu—their alternative candidate, who is widely derided as “China’s Panchen”—as the official face of Tibetan Buddhism in China.
Monks in monasteries traditionally loyal to the Dalai Lama remain reluctant to receive him, and in a tour of Tibet last August, Chinese authorities threatened punishment of Tibetan monks who refused to turn up for his official public appearances.