A global call upon China: Government officials, MPs and international bodies press China to release the Panchen Lama on 25th anniversary of his enforced disappearance

Dharamshala: Exactly twenty-five years ago on this day, the Chinese authorities abducted the 6-year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima just three days after His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially recognized him as the 11th Panchen Lama. Since then, every year Panchen Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s birthday was marked in absentia and 17 May, the day he was forcefully disappeared along with his parents, turned into a reoccurring and relentless global call upon China for their release. The Chinese government has maintained that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is leading a “very good life” and doing well but without providing a single evidence to verify its claim in all these years.

Twenty-five years on, the call continues, joined and amplified by prominent government officials, Members of Parliaments, and international rights organizations around the globe. They have voiced concerns over the Panchen Lama’s continued enforced disappearance and asked China to release him, his parents and Tibetan prisoners of conscience.

“This issue continues to be raised by the US government and will continue to be raised by the US government, ” remarked US Ambassador Sam Brownback in an interview to AFP.  The US Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said, “No, we do not have any idea of the whereabouts, and yes, we continue to press the Chinese authorities to release the Panchen Lama and let him free (…and) let the world know where he is. And this takes on, I think, an increased interest and focus and importance as China continues to assert – the Chinese Communist Party continues to assert their right to appoint the next Dalai Lama, and – which they do not have the right to do.”

US Congressman Jim McGovern, co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and of Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission called for the immediate release of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in a statement released last month on the Panchen Lama’s 31st birthday. Rep McGovern said, “He should be free because as a confined person he is likely at higher risk from the coronavirus that is claiming the lives of people. He should be free because he has the right under international law to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion including the right to practise his religion as he chooses. He should be free because he is still a young man and it is the right thing to do so happy birthday Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. May this year be the year we have the privilege to meet you in person.”

Similarly, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in commemoration of missing Panchen Lama’s 31st birthday renewed its call for the Chinese government to release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, one of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience. “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,” remarked USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China tweeted, “The Chairs call for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, on his 31st birthday and his parents Dechen Choedron and Konchog Phuntsog, 25 years after their forced disappearances. The Chinese government has international obligation to protect the human rights of all Tibetans.

Joining in the call for the immediate release of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, the UK Parliament Member and Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, MP Tim Loughton called out the Chinese government that mere reassurance is “not enough” and to “release and reveal” Panchen Lama to the world. MP Loughton also called out China to rectify their repressive measures that have cost the lives of millions of Tibetans who had to witness the daily suppression of their culture, religious beliefs, language, and basically their ways of life. The UK parliamentarian pointed out that such atrocity by the Chinese government, by all means, is an injustice that the world needs to stand up to.

Member of the Lithuanian Parliament and head of Provisional Group for Solidarity with Tibetans MP Dr. Andrius Navickas urged Lithuanian President and the Foreign Affairs Minister to press China to reveal reliable information about the Panchen Lama’s wellbeing. “Various international organizations have repeatedly asked China about the fate of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family, but each time it has responded by cynical lies. To date, however, the world community has no confirmed knowledge regarding the 11th Panchen Lama – whether he is alive and what his current identity is,” said Dr. Navickas. He further stated, “On the 17th of May this year, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the abduction of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, by now he should be 31 years old. The Tibetan government in exile and Tibetan organizations around the world call on the public to commemorate this sad anniversary and remind the Chinese Communist regime of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, a prisoner of conscience.”

Joining the global call for Panchen Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s release, 15 Parliamentarians of Switzerland issued a joint statement in three languages. The parliamentarians: Maya Graf, Lisa Mazzone and Carlo Sommaruga of Council of States; and Laurence Fehlmann Rielle, Claudia Friedl, Balthasar Glättli, Nik Gugger, Barbara Gysi, Beat JansIrène Kälin, Fabian Molina, Martina Munz, Nicolas Walder and Cédric Wermuth of the National Council Prisca Birrer-Heimo, who are also members of Switzerland’s Parliamentary Group for Tibet, urged the Chinese government to “respect human rights in Tibet including cultural and religious freedom.” The Parliamentarians pressed the Chinese government to “resume dialogue with the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for peaceful resolution of Tibet.” They also expressed deep respect for the Tibetan culture and the peaceful resistance of Tibetan people and undertook to “stand in solidarity with the Tibetan people.”

A similar statement was released by 12 Czech Parliamentarians: Chamber of Deputies: František Kopříva (co-chair of Czech Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet- Chamber of Deputies), Dana Balcarová, Jan Čižinský, Jakub Janda, Lenka Kozlová, Tomáš Martínek, Jakub Michálek, Vít Rakušan, Olga Richterová, Ondřej Veselý, Tomáš Vymazal and Marek Výborný. The statement highlighted the fact that Tibetans were “forced to celebrate the 31st birthday” of 11th Panchen Lama “without even knowing whether he is alive or not,” and called the enforced disappearance of Panchen Lama and his family for 25 years a “continuous crime being perpetrated by China not only against Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family but also against all the Tibetans who are deprived of their religious leader.”

“Tibet is consistently ranked as the second least free region in the world and the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief has ranked China as one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world in 2018. Not just Tibetan Buddhists, even Uighur Muslims and Christians are also facing religious persecution by China,” read the statement.

Separately, 16 Czech Senators signed a joint statement calling for the release of Panchen Lama. The Senators’ joint statement read, “WE the undersigned members of Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic express our support and solidarity for Tibet and its people for their non-violent movement to find justice, peace and freedom for Tibet.” The Senators reiterated their calls to China “to respect the rights of Tibetan people and their unique cultural identity” and called upon China to “reveal the whereabouts and the well-beings of Panchen Lama of Tibet, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and release him and his family unconditionally.” The 16 signatories are the 1st Vice-President of the Czech Republic Senat Jiri Ruzicka, Vice President of the Senate Miluše Horská, Vice president of the Senate Jan Hornik, Vice President of the Senate Jiri Oberfalzer, Chair of the Tibet Support Group in the Senate Senator Premysl Rabas, Senator David Smoljak, Senator Marek Hilšer, Senator Vaclav Chaloupek, Senator Jitka Seitlova, Senator Zdenek Papousek, Senator Lukas Wagenknecht, Senator Jiri Dienstbier, Senator Tomas Czernin, Senator Miroslav Balatka, Senator Renata Chmelova, Senator Jiri Drahos.

Four other Czech Parliamentarians recorded video messages observing the anniversary. In the video messages, Senator Premysl Rabas, chair of Czech Parliamentarian Support Group for Tibet, Senator Marek Hilser, Senator Vaclav Chaloupek and Mr. Frantisek Kopriva, Member of Chamber of Deputies and co-chair of Czech Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet, appealed to the Chinese government to release Panchen Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family. “However hard Beijing tries to remove the Panchen Lama of Tibet from people’s head and heart, Tibet’s Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima will not be forgotten,” said Senator Chaloupek in his message.

Expressing serious concerns over “China’s continues disregard of its international human rights obligations,” the Italian Parliamentarians; Senator Roberto Rampi, and Member of Chamber of Deputies and coordinator for Inter-Parliamentary Group Italy for Tibet, Mr Luciano Nobili, Members of Chamber of Deputies Mr Matteo Luigi Bianchi and Antonella Incerti, pressed the Chinese authorities to “immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima” and to “respect Tibetans’ right to freedom of religion and right to choose their own religious heads without governmental interference.” The Parliamentarians further emphasized that China has suppressed Tibetans’ right to religious freedom in Tibet for the last six decades in order to abuse the religious institutions as “a means to gain control over Tibetans.”

Additionally, Senator Roberto Rampi, Mr. Luciano Nobili and Mr. Matteo Luigi Bianchi also recorded video messages calling the enforced disappearance of the Panchen Lama by China as “one of the most terrible human rights crimes in the world,” “a very serious story that still bleeds and is a violation of all civil and democratic laws,” and that “the credibility of China is under serious question at the moment, respectively.

German Parliamentarians joined the global call upon China to release Panchen Lama and to enter into serious dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his representatives. The four Members of the Parliament who are also the Human Rights Policy Committee spokespersons for the four largest German parties in Bundestag; Mr. Michael Brand, Mr. Frank Schwabe, Ms. Gyde Jensen, and Ms. Margarete Bause in a joint statement stated, “25 years ago, the Chinese Communist leadership abducted the then six-year-old Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom we demand to be released immediately.” The Parliamentarians also urged the Chinese government to allow the UN representatives and observers to contact Panchen Lama and to respect the rights of the Tibetans to choose their own religious heads.

The Estonian Parliamentary Group for Tibet of the Riigikogu who also reiterated the call for the release of the Panchen Lama and other prisoners of conscience, urged the Beijing government to open negotiations without preconditions with the spiritual leader of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama. “We call on all freedom-loving nations and the global community to put pressure on the Communist Government of China to release the Tibetan prisoners of conscience, and to ensure freedom of religion and freedom of speech on the whole territory ruled by the regime. This is possible only through negotiations where the representatives of Tibet in exile are involved,” stated the statement by the members of the Tibet Support Group of the Riigikogu.

A group of 22 Slovak Parliamentarians, including Deputy Speakers of the Parliament Mr. Gábor Grendel and Mr. Juraj Šeliga, condemned the enforced disappearance of Panchen Gedhun Choekyi Nyima by China. The Parliamentarians called for his immediate release along with his entire family and other Tibetan political prisoners in a joint statement signed by the two Deputy Speakers and twenty parliamentarians: Peter Osuský, Miroslav Kollár, Ondrej Dostál, Radovan Kazda Vladimíra Marcinková, Peter Pollák , Miroslav Žiak, Jarmila Halgašová, Anna Zemanová, Dominik Drdul, Kristián Čekovský, Juraj Krúpa, Jana Žitňanská, Marian Viskupič, Peter Cmorej, Ján Benčík, Anna Záborská, Vladimír Ledecký, Romana Tabak and Monika Kozelová. The Parliamentarians noted the fact that China has not divulged any sufficient, satisfactory information about the Panchen Lama and his family in the last 25 years, and called it a “tragic milestone evincing the continuous crime being perpetrated by China not only against Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family but also against all the Tibetans.” The Parliamentarians urged the Slovak government, the European Union and the United Nations to press China to release Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his entire family.

Besides the political leaders from across the world, several well-known international organizations and civil societies notably, Human Rights Watch, UN Watch, Amnesty International, Society for Threatened Peoples, The Unrepresented People’s Organization, Citizens Power Initiatives for China, and Forum 2000, have reiterated the global call for the Panchen Lama’s release as well. Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch wrote, “The Chinese government needs to show genuine respect for the Tibetan religion, its believers and its current leaders, starting with the current Dalai Lama. Without that, the evidence so far is that Chinese authorities’ enforced parading of innocent abductees as its proxies in Tibet will not gain support from the Tibetan public or others concerned about religious freedom.”

The UN Watch tweeted, “25 years ago: China kidnapped 6-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 2nd most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism & world’s youngest political prisoner-whereabouts unknown. Now: China just joined the UN panel that selects members of the UN committee on enforced disappearance.”

Amnesty InternationalCzech Republic joined the global campaign by posting support on their Facebook page urging the Czech Republic Foreign Affairs Minister “to put pressure on China. Human rights in Tibet must not be trampled and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family must be released.”

In a press release, Society for Threatened People has asked the Chinese government to “finally announce what happened to the 11th Panchen Lama.” “Instead of the rightful Panchen Lama, the Chinese government has appointed a five-year-old Tibetan named Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama. He is used by the government in Beijing as a puppet for the alleged proof that there is freedom of belief in China, ” explains Hanno Schedler, GfbV consultant for genocide prevention and responsibility for protection.

Citizens Power Initiatives for China also issued a statement stating, “We condemn China’s continued colonizing policy in Tibet and call on the world democracies to confront China on the issue of Tibet. On the religious level, the world democracies do not have, and neither do Chinese who are not Tibetan Buddhists, the right to interfere with the decisions regarding the succession of the Panchen Lama or that of the Dalai Lama, which absolutely rests with the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders and the people of Tibet.”

The Unrepresented People’s Organization (UNPO) also published an article on its website and said, “This case is one of the most symbolic examples of China’s assault on human rights and freedom of religion, “and called on the “international community to hold China accountable for its crimes under international law.”

Moreover, 159 organizations from 19 countries have submitted a joint petition to the UN in this regard, calling for intervention and pressing China to release Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

The Central Tibetan Administration’s Cabinet or the Kashag released a statement today on the 25th anniversary of the enforced disappearance of His Eminence the 11th Panchen Lama. “For a person to spend the prime of his life or quarter of a century in enforced captivity is an irreparable loss. The disappearance of the Panchen Lama is not only an injustice to one person, but it is an injustice to six million Tibetans and their right to religious freedom,” it said. “China must honour its claim of ethnic harmony in China by fulfilling the aspiration of the Tibetan people. It must right the wrong and release the 11th Panchen Lama along with his family, Chadrel Rinpoche, and all Tibetans unjustly imprisoned, ” read the Kashag statement.

-Filed by the UN, EU & Human Rights Desk, DIIR