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Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – The Panchen Lama

Country: China 

Key Fact: 11th Panchen Lama

Disappeared Since: May 17, 1995

Biography: Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born on April 25, 1989, in Lhari County, Tibet. After the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose Gedhun on May 15, 1995, to be the 11th Panchen Lama, which is the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism.

Three days after his selection as Panchen Lama, Chinese government authorities kidnapped then six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family. On November 29, 1995, Chinese authorities announced their own pick to serve as the Panchen Lama: Gyancain Norbu.  Most Tibetan Buddhists have rejected him.

In the more than 20 years since Gedhun’s abduction, Chinese authorities have provided little information about his whereabouts, alleging that they need to protect him from being “kidnapped by separatists.” In May 2007, Asma Jahangir, then-United States Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, suggested that the Chinese government allow an independent expert to visit and confirm Gedhun’s well-being. On July 17, 2007, the Chinese authorities said that he is a “perfectly ordinary Tibetan boy” attending school and leading a normal life, and that he “does not wish to be disturbed.” Authorities say that the state employs both of his parents and that his brothers and sisters are either working or at university. 

USCIRF Advocate: Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee

Advocacy

Press Release: Open Letter from USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee to the Panchen Lama on his 30th Birthday (April 25, 2019)
Press Release: Open Letter from USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee to the Panchen Lama on his 29th Birthday (April 25, 2018). 
Testimony: Testimony of Commissioner TEnzin Dorjee on "Tibet: Freedom of Religion" (July 12, 2017)
Press Release: Open Letter from USCIRF Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee to the Panchen Lama on his Birthday (April 25) (April 25, 2017)
Government Correspondence: USCIRF Letter to Secretary Kerry on the Seventh Session of hte U.S. - China Strategic & Economic Dialogue (June 18, 2015)

Related Reports & Briefs

2019 Annual Report Chapter on China

Newsroom

Article: Interview with Voice of America TIbetan on the case of the Panchen Lama (April 28, 2017)
Article: Catholic News Agency -- US leaders tell persecuted believers 'You are not alone' (April 6, 2017)
Op-Ed: Religion News Service -- Today - of all days - remember the disappeared (August 30, 2016)
Press Release: CHINA: President Obama - Raise Religious Freedom on G20 Tip (August 13, 2016)
Op-Ed: The National Interest -- Where Your Religion Can Still Send You to Jail (December 10, 2015)
Op-Ed: Philadelphia Inquirer -- Dalai Lama's message; our nation's creed (July 5, 2015)

Other Resources

Congressional-Executive Commission on China - Political Prisoner Database
State Department International Religious Freedom Report