Geneva: The Tibet Bureau Geneva held a virtual panel discussion on 17 May to mark the 26th year of the enforced disappearance of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Being forcibly abducted at age 6 on 17 May 1995 after his recognition by the Dalai Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima became the world’s youngest political prisoner. The panel thus discussed how 26 years later China is still choosing to refuse him his rights, hide his whereabouts and meddle with the centuries-old religious tradition of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism.
The panel speakers comprised of Ven. Arjia Rinpoche, Director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, USA, and author of Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years; Tencho Gyatso, Interim Vice-President and Director-of-Outreach, at International Campaign for Tibet (ICT); and Mr. Mikuláš Peksa, member of the European Parliament and chair of the Tibet Interest Group in the European Parliament. The discussion was moderated by Thinlay Chukki, Special Appointee of Human Rights at the Tibet Bureau Geneva, CTA.
In his talk, Ven. Arjia Rinpoche narrated his eyewitness account detailing the circumstances that led to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s disappearance, the need for the Chinese government to interfere in Panchen Lama’s selection, and the method of intimidation they used to fulfill this goal. Rinpoche’s insights came from his role as the Secretary of the search team for selecting the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. The initial search team comprised of Jamyang Rinpoche, spiritual teacher to the 10th Panchen Lama, and Chadrel Rinpoche who was also abducted alongside the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. To explain the Chinese agenda better, Arjia Rinpoche discussed the importance of understanding how the disapproval and penalties began right from the time of the 10th Panchen Lama for his actions like the investigative report in the form of a “70000 Character Petition” that exposed how Chinese policies were destroying Tibetan culture and Buddhism. He also revealed the use of heavy military to intimidate any opposition from the search team against the Chinese government meddling with the selection, including the rigging of its own Golden Urn ceremony at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple. Besides force, Rinpoche also disclosed the Chinese government’s plot to bribe Arjia Rinpoche for his support. He was offered the position to be a tutor to Gyancain Norbu, the Chinese state-installed Panchen Lama. It was these surmounting pressures from the Chinese authorities to demand his compliance at all costs that eventually caused Rinpoche to escape into exile.
ICT’s Tencho Gyatso carried the discussion forward by showing why Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s forced abduction along with his family and the subsequent replacement by a state-sanctioned alternate boy as the Panchen Lama goes beyond the case of a child’s disappearance, however, grave the crime in itself is. Given the shared spiritual connection between Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lama institutions, Ms. Tencho said that the young Panchen Lama’s abduction was different because of “the fact that it is part of China’s orchestrated plan to control the lineage and authority of the Dalai Lama in the future” across Tibet. Ms. Tenchoe also spoke on the historical role of the 10th Panchen Lama in safeguarding Tibetan culture which culminated in his famous 70000-character petition to the CCP detailing an informed critique of China’s destruction in Tibet.
Recognizing Panchen lama as a prisoner of conscience and therefore a global concern, European Parliamentarian Mr. Mikuláš Peksa spoke about the need for a European position to see religious freedom in Tibet as “relevant agenda”. He talked about the ongoing developments at the EU level and the successful cross-partisan support across political landscape on this issue. He is hopeful yet realistic that the Europe will soon have to take a stand to see that there is no Chinese interference in successive reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the release of Panchen Lama and other Tibetan political prisoners.
The talk concluded with Ms. Thinlay Chukki announcing the submission of a petition on 17 May 2021 by the Tibet Bureau Geneva to the United Nations on behalf of Tibetan and supporters. It has called the UN for immediate attention and actions towards the release of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. The panel discussion was broadcasted live on Tibet Bureau Geneva Facebook Page.