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Panchen Lama: Youngest to the Longest Serving Political Prisoner?

The 11th Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders, turned 34 on April 25, 2023. He was recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. 

The Chinese government rejected the Dalai Lama’s choice and responded by abducting Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on 17th May 1995. The 11th Panchen Lama was just 6 years old and became the world’s youngest political prisoner. His family members were taken away as well. The 11th Panchen Lama and his family have not been seen in public since.

On April 8, 2011, the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances publicly stated: “They (the Chinese authorities) have continually refused to divulge any information about him or his whereabouts, making his case an enforced disappearance.” Tibetans, international organizations, and many governments have called for the Panchen Lama and his family’s immediate release and freedom. The PRC and the CCP have steadfastly refused to divulge any information on the 11th Panchen Lama’s whereabouts. 

The world’s failure to hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions on the 11th Panchen Lama will embolden Beijing to continue trampling on the rights of the Tibetan people including interfering in the selection of the next Dalai Lama. The 11th Panchen Lama has already spent 28 years of his life in captivity and he could become both the youngest as well as the longest serving political prisoner in the world. 

The Asia Freedom Institute marked this special occasion with a special event that featured a panel discussion with Bob Thurman, Lobsang Sangay, Garnett Genuis, Rajiv Mehrotra, Nangsel Dewa, and video messages from Zeekgyab Tulku and Nury Turkel. AFI also released a short film.