Four Tibetans were detained in western China’s Sichuan province on Monday after calling for the release of Tibetan spiritual leader the Panchen Lama, who disappeared into Chinese custody as a child in 1995 after being authorized in his role by the exiled Dalai Lama, Tibetan sources said.
Three of the four Tibetans are still being held, while the fourth, who is physically disabled and unable to speak, has now been released, sources said, adding that those still in detention will be tried by a local court in about 15 days.
Wangchen, aged 20 and the group’s leader, had recited prayers and shouted slogans while taking part in a clean-up drive on April 29 on a hill behind a monastery in Sershul county in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“During an offering ceremony and the hanging of prayer flags on the hill behind Sershul monastery, he shouted slogans calling for the release of the Panchen Lama and for the reunion of the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama in Tibet,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Only Wangchen recited the prayers and shouted the slogans, the source said.
“But the three others—Lobsang, Yonten, and another person who was physically disabled—were also detained as his accomplices,” he said.
Other Tibetans present on the hillside to collect caterpillar fungus, an important source of local income valued for its supposed medicinal qualities, had advised Wangchuk not to shout the politically sensitive slogans, fearing he might be arrested by police, the source said.
“But he replied that over 150 Tibetans have already self-immolated [in protests opposing Chinese rule in Tibetan areas], and that all Tibetans should share their burden and responsibility,” he said.
Wangchen, an unschooled local resident who made his living in horse-riding competitions, then returned to the base of the hill and was taken into custody with his friends, the source said, adding that police quickly confiscated the men’s cell phones to prevent the spread of news of their arrest.
“Wangchen and two others are now being held at the People’s Court in Sershul, though the other man was released. No one is allowed to meet with them until the court issues a verdict within 15 days,” he said.
Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama-—the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Three days later, the young Panchen Lama and his family were taken away by Chinese authorities, who then installed another boy as their own candidate in his place.
Speaking last week on the eve of the Panchen Lama’s 30th birthday, a Tibetan advocacy group said China should immediately free the Panchen Lama from custody and allow him to return to his monastery to assume his role as the second most well-known religious figure in Tibet.
While the religious leader’s whereabouts remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance, “it is believed he is still alive,” Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a statement marking his April 25 birthday.
“As the Panchen Lama turns 30, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) calls on China to immediately free him and allow him to return to his monastery, Tashi Lhunpo, and assume his vital role as a religious leader,” the statement said, noting that enforced disappearance is defined as a crime by the United Nations.
Reported by Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.