Yesterday I found myself curled up on the couch with a cup of tea, listening to Tibetan music, and reading the latest Shambala Sun article about His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It swiftly dawned on me that partaking in an act as simple as that is a risk to one’s life in Tibet. Photographs of the 14th Dalai Lama are illegal in Tibet, and those found with photographs of the spiritual figurehead are thrown in jail.
Basic human rights–life, liberty, and security of person–are denied in Tibet. People who speak out against the government–those seen as a threat to China–are imprisoned and subjected to tortures more cruel than one’s mind could imagine. People disappear, not to be seen for years.
When I was in Lhasa, I was told that a man who had once produced tee-shirts with clever slogans on them disappeared one day. I inquired how long ago it was, only to hear, “I don’t know.” He trailed off, then explained that one can’t keep track of “those things,” because one never knows what happened to them, if that person will ever be free again, if they’ll ever see the light of day, or if they’re already dead and gone. This is the sad reality in Tibet and China–a government that is indiscriminate in their oppression, detaining monks, artists, activists, professors, and more, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Han Chinese alike.
On April 25th, 1989, a young boy was born, a boy who would come to be recognized as a reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lamas are second only to the Dalai Lama in the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism, and the 10th Panchen Lama had passed away in January of 1989–just five days after delivering a speech in Tibet, where he stated that “Since liberation, there has certainly been development, but the price paid for this development has been greater than the gains.” Many suspect that his death was not of natural causes.
Gendhun Choekyi Nyima was recognized by the current Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama on May 14th in 1995. Three days later, on May 17th, he and his family disappeared, and they have not been seen or heard from since. In November of the same year, the Chinese government named their own 11th Panchen Lama–a boy whose parents were Communist party members. That boy is now twenty-one years old, and serves as the People’s Republic of China’s pawn, acting as their image of religious freedom in Tibet.
Next week, on April 25th, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima turns twenty-two years old. No one has seen him since he was six years old, he was the world’s youngest political prisoner.
When someone from the UN Human Rights Council requested an independent visit to the boy and his family in 2007, the response ignored the question altogether, stating instead that “Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is a perfectly ordinary Tibetan boy, in an excellent state of health, leading a normal, happy life and receiving a good education and cultural upbringing. He is currently in upper secondary school, he measures 1 m 65 cm in height and is easy-going by nature. He studies hard and his school results are very good. He likes Chinese traditional culture and has recently taken up calligraphy. His parents are both State employees, and his brothers and sisters are either already working or at university. The allegation that he disappeared together with his parents and that his whereabouts remain unknown is simply not true.” (Phayul)
What can one do, as a David to China’s Goliath? For one, don’t let your free speech go to waste. Speak out on behalf of Ai Weiwei, Luo Xiabao, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, Dhondup Wangchen, and others. Tell others about them, write letters, and let the Chinese government know that you’re watching.