Sixteen years ago a young boy, six years old at the time, disappeared along with his family. This happened one week after he was declared to be a reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, making him the second highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism behind the Dalai Lama. He has not been seen since that day in 1995. Today is his twenty-second birthday.
I celebrated my twenty-second birthday, which was only a little over a year ago, by spending the weekend in New York City and having a special dinner with my family when I returned home. What is a birthday like for the disappeared? I can’t imagine how Gendun Choekyi Nyima spends his days, let alone his birthdays, in an unknown location in China where he is constantly being watched by the government. While he lives out his days in silence, another young man who was chosen by the Chinese government in 1995 acts as Panchen Lama.
Across the globe, Tibetans and Tibet supporters are using this day to remember him, and to call on governments and world leaders to press China to release details of his whereabouts.
International Campaign for Tibet has written a press release that calls for China to reveal the young Panchen Lama’s whereabouts. The statement points out that “Enforced disappearance, as defined in the UN Declaration on the protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, is a continuous crime until the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person becomes known. Accordingly, the enforced disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, is a continuous crime being committed by the People’s Republic of China.”
Although he is gone from view, he has not been forgotten, as Tendor writes, “Tibetans and supporters hang your photo in their homes or carry it in their wallets. Mothers hold your image to their chest, your photograph wet from tears and crumpled from years of separation. We have not forgotten you. In fact, with each passing year of your absence, your presence is burnt ever deeper into our memory.”
Visit freepanchenlama.org to read more and take action by signing a petition to Zhu Weiqun, China’s Vice Minister of the United Front Work Department, who is an official spokesperson for Tibetan affairs.