This week marked the 28th birthday of Tibet’s Panchen Lama, reinvigorating calls for his release from detention by the Chinese government. Radio Free Asia reports that at just 6 years old, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family were detained when the exiled Dalai Lama named him the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Chinese authorities swiftly removed Nyima and installed government-backed Gyaincain Norbu to the religious and political position. The role of the Panchen Lama is the second most senior monk in Tibetan tradition, and Gyaincain Norbu remains an unsatisfactory candidate to many Tibetans who consider Nyima’s detention a tragedy.
“Please know that I think about you every day, and as each year passes, my resolve to find you and restore you to your rightful role becomes stronger,” the head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in an open letter to the missing Panchen Lama. Little has emerged about him over the last 22 years. According to the Hong Kong Free Press, Chinese officials stated in 2015 that he doesn’t want to be bothered and is “living a normal life,” including attending school. But Beijing has denied the United Nations as well as human rights group's requests to check up on him. Current law dictates that reincarnate lamas must be approved by Beijing in order to discourage a rallying call for Tibetan independence, a process that could instate a new “patriotic lama” once the current Dalai Lama, who is 81, one day passes away. (Read more Dalai Lama stories.)