Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Telesis File : China Must Free The Panchen Lama!

Background Information Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is the child recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. At the time of his abduction in 1995 he was probably the world's youngest political prisoner. He has not been seen or heard from since. The 10th Panchen Lama The previous Panchen Lama (Lobsang Trinley Lhundrup Choekyi Gyaltsen) was sometimes regarded as a controversial figure, but he spoke out against Chinese rule on many occasions and wrote a report chronicling Tibet's famines in the 1960s. As a result of his views the 10th Panchen Lama spent more than 8 years in jail. He died in suspicious circumstances in 1989. He is remembered with great affection by the Tibetan people. The Abduction In 1989, following the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, the abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery, Chadrel Rinpoche, was given the task by Beijing to head the search for the Panchen Lama's reincarnation. Chadrel Rinpoche sent a list of possible candidates to Dharamsala and on 15 May 1995 the Dalai Lama announced that six year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had been recognised as the 11th Panchen Lama. The Chinese Government, intending to choose its own candidate, denounced the Dalai Lama's recognition as "illegal and invalid". On 17 May 1995 the Chinese authorities abducted Gedhun and his family. At the time Gedhun was probably the world's youngest political prisoner. Numerous arrests followed Gedhun's abduction, including Chadrel Rinpoche and his assistant Jampa Chung, who served six year and four year sentences respectively for "selling state secrets" and "colluding with separatist forces abroad". Chadrel Rinpoche was released at the beginning of 2002, though it is believed he remains under house arrest in Lhasa. Jampa Chung should have been released in 2000 though unconfirmed reports in 2003 suggested that he may have remained in some form of custody. The Replacement Six months after Gedhun's abduction China announced that it had selected Gyaltsen Norbu, a Tibetan boy from the same region as Gedhun, to become the Panchen Lama. Since his selection Gyaltsen has lived and been educated in Beijing, having only returned to Tibet on three occassions. His most recent visit in September 2004 was, as with previous visits, carefully stage-managed and policed. Official Statement In May 1996 China admitted that Gedhun and his family were being held at a secret location. In response to a formal question from the United Nations Committee for the Rights of the Child, China's ambassador to the UN claimed that, "(Gedhun) has been put under the protection of the government at the request of his parents." He did not say where Gedhun was being held. Xinhua reported, "the boy was at risk of being kidnapped by separatists and his security has been threatened." The Current Status The Chinese Government still refuses to reveal Gedhun's whereabouts or accede to the numerous requests from the United Nations and Western governments to allow impartial international observers access to check on his living conditions and well-being. This obstructive tactic is intended not only to discourage the international campaign but also, China hopes, allow time for their own Panchen Lama to become established and accepted. However, reports from Tibet indicate that Gyaltsen Norbu is not revered by Tibetans as the true Panchen Lama and the only homages made to him are those made under direction from the authorities. The Political Consequences The abduction and replacement of the Panchen Lama is part of China's efforts to 'stabilise' Tibet by controlling its religion and breaking the influence of the Dalai Lama. China is well aware of the influence the Panchen Lama can have on Tibetan society. The regard amongst Tibetans for the 10th Panchen Lama increased when he dared to write a report challenging the Chinese authorities for precipitating the famine in Tibet in the 1960s. He served eight years in prison as a result. He also promoted religious freedom in Tibet until he died suspiciously in 1989. As well as being the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism the Panchen Lama also traditionally recognises the Dalai Lama's reincarnation. There will be far-reaching consequences for Tibet if the recognition of the next Dalai Lama was to come under Chinese Government influence. To this end the Dalai Lama has stated that if he dies in exile his reincarnation will be born in exile and not in Tibet. - Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

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