BEIJING – Tibet’s self-declared government-in-exile marked the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of a boy named as Tibetan Buddhism’s second highest figure by calling on China on Sunday to account for his whereabouts.
The Tibetan parliament in northern India, known as the Kashag, said the boy named the 11th Panchen Lama who was taken away at age 6 along with his family in 1995 continued to be recognized as the sole legitimate holder of his title.
China, which claims Tibet as its own territory, named another boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, to the position and he is believed to live under close government control in mainland China and is rarely seen in public.
“China’s abduction of the Panchen Lama and forcible denial of his religious identity and right to practice in his monastery is not only a violation of religious freedom but also a gross violation of human rights,” the Kashag statement said.
“If China’s claim that Tibetans in Tibet enjoy religious freedom is to be considered true, then China must provide verifiable information on the well-being and whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama” along with others, the statement said.
The dispute mainly focuses on political power and the arcane rituals for naming a new Panchen Lama, believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor.
The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile following an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, named the original Panchen, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, with the help of Tibetan lamas trained in reading portents and signs.
China claims the reincarnate can only be chosen by pulling lots from a golden urn, a method it used to pick its own candidate under strict control of the officially atheistic ruling Communist Party.
Traditionally, the Panchen Lama has served as teacher and aide to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s highest leader who is now 84 and accused by Beijing of seeking independence for Tibet. Beijing claims the Himalayan territory has been part of China for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were largely independent for most of that time.
Tibet’s capital Lhasa has seen a massive influx of Chinese migrants and the entire region is under a heavy security lockdown, tightened considerably since bloody anti-government protests in 2008 that spread through many Tibetan areas in western China.
Despite appeals from the United Nations and foreign governments and organizations, China has never provided any solid information on the condition or location of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family, saying only that they were being looked after and did not wish to have contact with the outside world.
The 10th Panchen Lama was imprisoned by China and died under what some consider suspicious circumstances in 1989 after making speeches calling for greater religious and social freedoms for Tibetans.