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Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, is the second most important spiritual leader for the Tibetan people. He is 15 years old. "Disappeared" by the Chinese government since May 17, 1995, he is the youngest political prisoner in the world.

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15 year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, and has been held illegally and incommunicado by the Chinese government since May 17, 1995.

The Panchen Lama lineage was established in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama is the second highest incarnation in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama; it is traditionally via their teacher-student relationship that the teachings are carried unbroken through the generations. The Panchen Lama's seat is traditionally in Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet.

The 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, died mysteriously in 1989, at the age of 51. He was 11 years old when the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1949. He wrote a 70,000 Character Petition to the Chinese government (available in English through the Tibet Information Network), and was subjected to severe struggle sessions and thirteen years in prison for his strong criticism of Chinese policies. He remained in China until his untimely death, working to spur positive changes for Tibetans living under Chinese rule.

In 1990, an official search party for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama was formed and headed by Chadrel Rinpoche, abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. In the ensuing years he and the search party consulted numerous visions and divinations following ancient traditions. The Chinese government granted them permission to consult with the Dalai Lama on the selection process, but this permission was repealed in 1993. 1

In January 1995, His Holiness conducted a divination which revealed that among the potential candidates, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was an extremely good candidate for reincarnation, and in February of 1995 Chadrel Rinpoche announced Him the top choice. On May 15, 1995, after further divinations, His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially proclaimed the then six year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to be the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama. Two days later, on May 17, 1995, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and His family disappeared from their home in Lhari, Tibet. Chadrel Rinpoche and scores of others were detained (including at least 19 monks for protesting at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery), and a new search committee was assembled to find a "Beijing-approved" boy, though China is officially atheist and repressive of religion.

On November 29, 1995, at dawn in the Johkang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, the new committee made the final selection of a rival 'Panchen Lama' by drawing an ivory tile bearing the boy's name from three possible choices out of an infamous 'golden urn'. On December 8, 1995, Beijing enthroned then 6 year old Gyaltsen Norbu as their Panchen Lama. By January 1996, at least 56 Tibetans had been detained in connection with the dispute over the Panchen Lama's reincarnation, according to unofficial reports, and many - including Chadrel Rinpoche - remain imprisoned to this day.

For 12 months after Gedhun Choekyi Nyima's detention, the Chinese authorities denied all allegations regarding the boy. On May 28, 1996, after prolonged scrutiny by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Chinese government finally admitted to holding the young boy and His family in Beijing, justifying the detention based on concern for His safety. In March 1997, the United Nations Working Group on Disappearances reported that China said the following regarding the Panchen Lama issue: "A few unscrupulous souls have tried to smuggle the boy abroad. They even plotted to do him physical harm and then shift the blame to the Government of China. Fearing for his safety, the boy's parents appealed to the Government for protection. The Government has responded to their requests by taking security measures to protect the boy, his parents, and other family members. At present they are leading normal lives and enjoying perfect health. Unfortunately, unless we have their consent, we are not at liberty to reveal their place of refuge." The Working Group remains concerned about this case, and to this day the Chinese government has refused any outside access to the Panchen Lama or His family.

By appointing a rival 'Panchen Lama', China has blatantly revealed their intention to consolidate and extend control over the religious and temporal affairs of the Tibetans.

In 1994, at China's Fourth Working Group on Tibet meeting, the Chinese authorities determined that in order to solve the Tibet problem they would have to pursue a 'final solution', which would entail the elimination of the Tibetans as a people. Some means to this elimination are eugenics, massive population transfers, and forced birth control and sterilization of men and women. Other methods include the elimination of the Tibetan language from school curricula and the forced settlement of nomads. Still a further means to crush any Tibetan identity and nationalism is widespread religious persecution, including massive re-education drives in the monasteries. The anti-crime 'Strike Hard' campaign has been used since 1996 to pursue pro-independence activists, especially bombers.

Since the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, religious repression in Tibet has greatly worsened-- to a point now unmatched since the Cultural Revolution. Tibetans are forbidden from owning or displaying photos of the Dalai Lama or currently detained Panchen Lama. An intensive reeducation campaign is still underway in all of Tibet's Buddhist monasteries, forcing monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama, recognize Tibet as part of China, and recognize the Chinese appointed Panchen Lama as legitimate or face expulsion from the monastery. A senior teacher was taken away for refusing to teach the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, monks in that monastery were arrested, and the monastery was shut down.

1 In July of 1994, Chinese authorities ruled that "we must reveal the true political face of the Dalai hidden behind the religious mask", and since December 1995, press articles have regularly referred to the Dalai Lama as "no longer a religious leader", in effect closing the option of allowing contact with him on religious matters.

[ copyright | u.s. tibet committee ]

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