Gendun Choekyi Nyima was kidnapped by the Chinese authorities just 2 months after he was officially recognized in 1995 as the 11th Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders. He and his family have been held under house arrest ever since.
Shortly after Gendun Choekyi Nyima’s detention, the Chinese government installed another young boy, Gyaincain Norbu, in his place. For many years this puppet Panchen Lama was kept hidden, but for the past few years, Chinese authorities have used Gyaltsen Norbu as a mouthpiece for their propaganda campaign against the Dalai Lama.
Tibetans continue to revere him as a strong figure for Tibetan identity and nationhood. In June of 2012, Jigme Dolma, just 17-years-old, took to the streets in Tibet issuing flyers and shouting slogans for the release of the Panchen Lama. She was severely beaten and handed a 3-year prison sentence.
His Holiness the Panchen Lama will turn 30 this April. This should be an occasion of great celebration for Tibetans everywhere; but instead we will mark this occasion in protest and with sadness as the Panchen Lama has been a prisoner of the Chinese government for 23 years. May 17, 2019 marks 24 years of his enforced disappearance.