CANADA TIBET COMMITTEE
Media release: April 25, 2013
Carole Samdup (English): 514-487-0665
Eva Cirnu (Français): 514-632-6635
Canada Tibet Committee appeals for government action
to secure the release of Tibet’s Panchen Lama
Montreal, April 25, 2013 – The Office of Religious Freedom should leverage Canada’s bilateral relationship with China to secure the unconditional release of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet and Tibet’s second highest spiritual leader, the Canada Tibet Committee said today (1).
April 25, 2013 marks the 24th birthday of the Panchen Lama of Tibet who was abducted from his home in Nagchu District in May 1995 at age six. Neither he nor his parents have been seen or heard from since. Chinese authorities have admitted holding the boy “for his own protection” (2). Given the Panchen Lama’s senior position in Tibetan Buddhism, his continued detention violates religious freedom in Tibet.
“The Government of Canada has made religious freedom its human rights priority,” said Carole Samdup, Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee. “Efforts by the new Ambassador for Religious Freedom to visit Tibet and to press for release of the Panchen Lama will be a clear indication that Canada is serious about its commitment.”
Traditionally the Panchen Lama has been described as the “moon to the Dalai Lama’s sun” and together they form the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism. Throughout history, the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama have played key roles in the selection of each other’s reincarnations.
“By controlling the Panchen Lama, China hopes to control the naming of the next Dalai Lama and consequently the spiritual lineage of Tibet” Samdup said. “This will only exacerbate tensions in Tibet and set the stage for more conflict.”
The Government of Canada has raised the Panchen Lama case with Chinese authorities on several occasions since 1995, including by delivering 1000 birthday cards from Canadian children in 1998 (3). To date, Chinese authorities have not provided any verifiable information to Canada about the boy’s safety or whereabouts.
(1) An online petition for the Panchen’s Lama’s release is found here: http://www.freepanchenlama.org/take-action/
(2) In May 1996 Chinese delegates at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child admitted that the boy and his family were being held in custody “for their own protection”.
In September 1996, delegates of the Chinese “Ethnic Affairs Commission” confirmed in a meeting held at the Canadian Human Rights Foundation in Montreal, that Chinese authorities were holding Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family saying that he was “healthy and that he is studying to become a monk”.
In 2000, during a bilateral dialogue meeting on human rights, European Union and British officials were shown 2 photographs of a young boy allegedly proving that he was alive and well. Forensic analysis later indicated that the photographs were not Gendun Choekyi Nyima.
In August 2001, Chinese authorities promised photographs to a Polish delegation to Tibet but the delegation was later told that the boy was "far away" from Lhasa and so the pictures could not be obtained immediately.
In October 2001, an Australian delegation was told that the parents of Gendun Choekyi Nima were insisting that no foreign delegations be allowed to meet with him. According to Chinese authorities, the parents have said that "they want their privacy respected, that they don't particularly want people to have access to the child and they want him to live a normal life and they don't want to be bothered by people".
(3) In response to a Canada Tibet Committee campaign in 1998, the Government of Canada agreed to deliver over 1000 birthday cards addressed to Gendun Choekyi Nyima to authorities in Beijing. The cards were signed by children from across Canada. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, wrote to the CTC on May 7, 1998 saying, “I have agreed to forward the birthday cards to the Chinese authorities through our embassy in Beijing… we cannot be assured that the cards will be delivered, but the fact that Canadians have not forgotten the Panchen Lama will be noted.”