Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who vanished into Chinese custody as a young boy 25 years ago this week, must be allowed to speak for himself, ending international uncertainty over his whereabouts and condition, a Washington-based Tibet support group said on Tuesday.
“The Panchen Lama is now an adult, and according to the Chinese Constitution the Chinese government has to respect his personal dignity,” the International Campaign for Tibet said, adding, “The 31-year old Panchen Lama should be given his constitutional right to speak for himself.”
The ICT statement came in response to a statement Tuesday by China’s Foreign Ministry that the missing religious figure “now has a job” and wishes with his family to be left alone and out of the public eye.
China’s statement came in apparent response to a call on May 18 by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for Beijing to make public “the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and to uphold its own constitution and international commitments to promote religious freedom for all persons.”
"Tibetan Buddhists, like members of all faith communities, must be able to select, educate, and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference," Pompeo added, calling the Panchen Lama second in spiritual authority only to exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.
Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
The recognition by the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
The whereabouts of the Dalai Lama’s choice of Panchen Lama remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance.
The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing meanwhile remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.
China has not allowed anyone to meet or speak to the Panchen Lama following his disappearance, “fueling fears and speculations as to whether he is still alive,” ICT said in its May 19 statement.
“The Chinese government should now follow up on today’s statement by both allowing the Panchen Lama to speak for himself freely and without restrictions, and by allowing an international and independent investigation to ascertain what happened to him after he disappeared over 25 years ago,” ICT said.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.