May 17th, 2020 marked 25 years since Chinese security forces forcefully took away 6-year-old Tibetan boy, Gendhun Choeki Nyima, and his family from a remote town in Tibet, Human Right Watch reports.
The missing boy is now 31.
Free Tibet, a campaign that aims to end China’s occupation of Tibet and gain international recognition of Tibetan’s right to sovereignty, described Nyima as “the world’s youngest political prisoner.”
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nyima was born on April 25th, 1989, in Lhari County, Tibet. Just after his sixth birthday, the boy was chosen by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on May 14th, 1995 to be the 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism. Panchen Lama plays a key role in recognizing the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, BBC reported.
Three days after the boy’s selection as Panchen Lama, Chinese authorities kidnapped the 6-year-old and his family, USCIRF reported. On November 29th, 1995, the Chinese government announced their own pick of the Panchen Lama — Gyaincain Norbu. Most Tibetan Buddhist have rejected Norbu.
According to the BBC, Norbu is the son of two Communist Party members. He was chosen by Beijing as the reincarnation when he was 6 years old. In April 2012, Norbu gave his first appearance outside mainland China as he addressed more than 1,000 monks in Hong Kong.
Free Tibet reported that Norbu was chosen by the Chinese government because the boy is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top advisory body to the Chinese government, and also a senior figure in China’s state-run Bhuddhist Association.
The campaign further indicated that the abduction and replacement of the Panchen Lama is a part of China’s effort to “stabilize” Tibet by controlling its religious beliefs and breaking the Dalai Lama’s influence in the region.
Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch argees, and argues that the Chinese government is actively trying to limit religious freedom in Tibet.
Richardson said that the Chinese government prohibits students from studying all religious beliefs, and has banned Tibetan children from attending local informal classes taught by monks in monasteries during school holidays.
Richardson also explained that China banned religious activities for government employees, even after retirement.
Allegations of human rights issues in China are widespread, especially those concerning the existence of concentration camps and the inhumane treatment of the Chinese minority groups in Xinjiang, a province home to the Mulsim Uighur people.
Foreign Affairs reported that the Chinese government has not only engaged in political and cultural repression of minority groups and Muslims in Xinjiang. But it has also destroyed mosques, confiscated Korans, forbidden halal diets and banned fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
However, in May 2020, CNN reported that Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, indicated that Nyiman has graduated college, and that neither he nor his family wished to be disturbed. They are reported to be living “normal lives.”
Lijian said in a press conference that Nyima “received free compulsory education when he was a child, passed the college entrance examination and now has a job.”
Authorities have also said that the state employs both of his parents and that his brothers and sisters are either working or attending university, USCIRF further indicated.
Written By: J. Laura