The International Campaign for Tibet is calling on China to allow international observers to verify the well-being of 16-year old Gendun Choekyi Nyima, Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, who has been held in ‘protective custody’ at an unknown location by China for ten years from 17 May 1995. Vigils for the Panchen Lama involving thousands of Tibet supporters worldwide are being held in 21 countries tomorrow (17 May), including India, Brazil, Sweden and the US. It is dangerous for Tibetans in Tibet to express their loyalty to the Panchen Lama. For political purposes, China, an atheist state, has installed another boy as Panchen Lama, who is generally not accepted by Tibetans.

‘It is unacceptable for Beijing to continue to keep the boy recognized as one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders in isolation from his people and from the world,’ said Mary-Beth Markey, Executive Director of ICT. ‘On this ten-year anniversary, we hope that China will acknowledge the concern of people all over the world by allowing access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima in order to ascertain his well-being and education.’

Beijing’s control of the Panchen Lama is critical to its strategic objectives in maintaining control over Tibet. Traditionally, each Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama performs a crucial role in the recognition of the reincarnation of the other, which is why the issue is of such political importance to the Chinese state. Measures used to implement state religious policy are particularly harsh in Tibet because of the close link between religion and Tibetan identity. The disappearance of the Panchen Lama has caused widespread despair throughout Tibet, and China is giving an increasingly high profile to the boy Beijing enthroned in his place, who is known as ‘Panchen Zuma’ (fake Panchen) to most Tibetans.

The “Global Vigil for Tibet’s Panchen Lama,” organized by the International Tibet Support Network’s (ITSN) member organizations including ICT, will begin in Wellington, New Zealand at 7.00 am local time and end with a vigil in San Francisco, USA which commences at 7.00 pm (PDT).Vigils will take place in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela, the UK and the United States. See: ITSN is also launching an art competition, ‘Stolen Words: Forbidden Images’ to enable young people across the world to contribute to the Tibetan cause through their creative skills.

Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family were taken from their village in Tibet by the Chinese authorities on May 17, 1995, just days after the then-six-year-old boy was recognized by the Dalai Lama as being the Panchen Lama. The boy, who was for a long time regarded as the world’s youngest political prisoner, is today just 16 years of age and his well-being and whereabouts remain unconfirmed. The Chinese government enthroned a different boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the 11th Panchen Lama. In recent months, China has dramatically stepped up propaganda to convince the world that he is the legitimate incarnation although he is overwhelmingly regarded as the ‘fake Panchen’ by the Tibetan people.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the Panchen Lama’s disappearance, ITSN is launching an art competition for people aged six to 16. ‘Stolen Words, Forbidden Images: International Art Competition for the Freedom of Tibet’s Panchen Lama’ is aimed at raising awareness among young people about the Panchen Lama and Tibet and provides a special opportunity for children to contribute towards an important cause through their creativity. The winners will be announced on International Children’s Day (November 20). For more information, see