Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today reiterated 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 second highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism is the Panchen Lama. The title Panchen Lama, meaning “great scholar,” was bestowed by the Fifth Dalai Lama on a tulku who was fourth in a lineage of rebirths, and so he became the 4th Panchen Lama.
The current Panchen Lama is the 11th. However, His Holiness Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (born 1989) and his family were taken into Chinese custody shortly after his recognition was made public in 1995. The Panchen Lama and his family have not been seen since. A pretender appointed by Beijing, Gyaltsen Norbu, has served as Panchen Lama in his place.
“It has been nearly 26 years since the Chinese Communist Party’s enforced disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was only six years old at the time of his abduction. As Gedhunturns 32 on April 25 this year, his whereabouts and wellbeing remain unknown. This lack of information is unacceptable,” noted USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza, who advocates for Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. “USCIRF renews its call for the Chinese government to allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the wellbeing of the 11th Panchen Lama, and to release him immediately and unconditionally.”
In July 2020, USCIRF applauded the Trump administration’s targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against four senior Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, the current Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang and former Secretary for Tibet until 2016. Chen is responsible for the egregious religious freedom and human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang.
“It is despicable that the Chinese Communist Party continues to interfere in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama,” added USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel. “The combination of the level of absurdity and ruthlessness in the CCP’s persecution of the Tibetan community should alarm the international community, which should stand united in calling for the release of the Panchen Lama.”