Posted on August 19, 2021.
Today is the auspicious 29th birth anniversary of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, Jetsun Tenzin Gedhun Yeshi Trinley Phuntsok Pal Sangpo. On this special day, the monks of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery bow down in great reverence to Him and offer our heartfelt prayers and countless good wishes for His well being. We also take the opportunity to welcome the many Tibetan people who have gathered at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery here in Bylakuppe, South India to join us in the celebration of His 29th birthday.
To honor His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on this special day, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and Students for Free Tibet are jointly organizing a candle light vigil, lighting more than 1,30,000 candles. The number of candles at this vigil represents the total number of Tibetans in exile. With this, we’ve also set a new world record for the most number of candles lit at a vigil. But more importantly, each of the 1,30,000 candles lit at the vigil represent the hope of every Tibetan in exile for the swift release of the Panchen Lama. The candles signify the prayers and wishes of every Tibetan for the good health and well being of the 11th Panchen Lama. Through this candle light vigil, we also hope to create greater awareness about the Panchen Lama issue and heighten the urgency in calling for his release.
It has now been 23 years since the Chinese authorities forcefully took the then-six-year-old reincarnated lama into custody, along with Chadrel Rinpoche, the then-abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, and the Panchen Lama’s family. Since then, the world has had no concrete proof or information about their whereabouts and well being, even as the Chinese government has sought greater control over all aspects of the Tibetan way of life.
For instance, in the past year alone, the Chinese government has tightened its control over its populace, and in doing so, broadened its crackdown on the freedoms of the Tibetan people. The lack of basic human rights and China’s mounting restrictions on the Tibetan people’s right to freely practice their religion in all the three main provinces of Tibet have led to more obvious displays of opposition and dissent among the Tibetan people over the Chinese government’s rule. As of today, at least 160 Tibetans in Tibet have self immolated themselves to protest the Chinese government’s policies and atrocities in Tibet. Just as Tibetans are suffering greatly under the Chinese government’s restrictive policies, so too are a large number of Chinese people. In addition, many peace- and truth-loving Chinese people have expressed their sincere regard for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and their heartfelt concerns about the well-being of the Panchen Lama.
The Panchen Lama and Chadrel Rinpoche disappearance for 23 long years make them among the world’s longest-held prisoners of conscience. Their disappearance should be a cause for grave concern as it is proof of China’s complete disregard for international human and child rights laws.
The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and the Central Association of the Panchen Lama have made repeated pleas over the years to governmental and non-governmental organizations around the world to press China to immediately release the 11th Panchen Lama, Chadrel Rinpoche and other Tibetan political prisoners. In addition, we have organized various campaigns across the world, calling for the swift release of the Panchen Lama and Chadrel Rinpoche, and seeking any information about their whereabouts and well-being. However, till date, China has not provided any reliable information about their well being and health.
For example, Dr Tenzin Dorjee, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), had been a strong advocate for the the Panchen Lama, making repeated pleas that the Chinese government release him and provide concrete evidence of his well being. In April 6, 2017, Dr Tenzin Dorjee, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), announced his adoption of the Panchen Lama as the case he will focus on as part of the USCIRF’s Religious Prisoner of Conscience Project. Later that same month, on April 25, Commissioner Dorjee wrote an open letter to the Panchen Lama, to coincide with his 28th birthday, in which wishes the Panchen Lama and says, “Ever since you were abducted as a young child at the age of six, the Chinese government has refused to share even basic information about you and your whereabouts. Please know that I think about you every day, and as each year passes, my resolve to find you and restore you to your rightful role becomes stronger.”
On July 12, 2017, US Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission organized a hearing on religious freedom in Tibet, during which they highlighted how China’s stronghold on Tibetan Buddhists is reflected in its detention of religious prisoners of conscience, particularly the continued detention of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. On February 12, 2018, US Members of Congress also introduced resolutions to commemorate Tibet’s 1959 uprising as “Tibetan Rights Day” on March 10, and to support the human rights and religious freedom of the Tibetan people in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The resolutions stigmatize the PRC’s interference in the religious freedom of the Tibetan people, specifically noting the enforced disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama and the installation of their own candidate in his place. They called on the U.S. Secretary of State to fully implement the Tibetan Policy Act in cooperation with like-minded states where appropriate, including that they urge the US Ambassador to China be allowed to meet with the Panchen Lama and ascertain his well being and whereabouts.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, Co-Chair of US Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, has also been at the forefront of these efforts to highlight China’s repressive religious policies in Tibet, and in October 2017, co-authored a column with USCIRF Commissioner Dorjee, calling on the United States to stand up to China to defend human rights in Tibet. They said, “The Panchen Lama’s disappearance is emblematic of the violations of religious freedom that take place in Tibetan areas on a daily basis.” In November 2017, ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to China, Sandra Jolley, Vice Chairwoman and Commissioner of USCIRF, and USCIRF Commissioner Dorjee also called on the Chinese government to uphold, not repress, the rich religious and cultural traditions of the Tiibetan people, and to free the many prisoners of conscience, including the Panchen Lama.
Most recently, on April 18, 2018, USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee, when speaking in Washington D.C on the commission’s 20-year anniversary, said China should now assume a relaxed position on the Panchen Lama and release the Tibetan religious leader. He added that the issue of the Panchen Lama is of grave importance to the religious sentiments of the Tibetan people and that China should immediately release video-graphic evidence of his well-being.
Similarly, in July 2017, Canadian Member of Parliament Randall Garrison sought details from Global Affairs Canada — the department managing Canada’s humanitarian assistance — about efforts undertaken to defend Tibetan political prisoners, particularly His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama. Garrison wrote, “What efforts have been made by the Government of Canada to encourage investigative missions to China by relevant UN human rights procedures including the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, in order to obtain updated information about the Panchen Lama case?” In response, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland in November said the Canadian government had called on China to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion to visit the Panchen Lama. In January 2018, Freeland also said Canada had requested permission from Chinese authorities to visit Tibet’s Panchen Lama, in order to ascertain his well-being, while reaffirming Canada’s long-standing commitment to the Panchen Lama. She also highlighted Canada’s commitment to dialogue with China on Tibet and human rights, expressing concerns about political and religious freedom, and added that Canada will “continue to seek greater access to Tibet for our diplomats, parliamentarians, NGOs, and visiting delegations”.
We welcome these efforts by the North American governments to raise the issue of the 11th Panchen Lama and Chadrel Rinpoche, the Head of the Search Committee for His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, with the Chinese government. It is a matter of grave concern that the world continues to remain uncertain about their well being or even of whether they are alive or not. We, therefore, urge the Central Tibetan Administration in exile, the United Nations, governmental representatives, non-governmental and civil-liberty organizations, and freedom-loving people around the world to continue their efforts to pressure the Chinese government to release the 11th Panchen Lama, Chadrel Rinpoche and other Tibetan political prisoners, while expressing our gratitude for keeping the issue alive with their unrelenting support and efforts over the years. We’re also grateful to Students for Free Tibet for the opportunity to work together in our common goal for the release of the Panchen Lama.
Finally, we pray for the swift release of His Holiness the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, his teacher Chadrel Rinpoche and the Panchen Lama’s family. We also pray for the fulfillment of all the auspicious wishes and commitments of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Panchen Lama. We pray that the two spiritual leaders of Tibet will soon have a glorious reunification.
This is the official statement of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Bylakuppe on the 29th birth anniversary of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama. Issued on April 25, 2018