May 23, 2019
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Tibetans in India mark 30th birthday of spiritual leader missing in China

McLeod Ganj (India), Apr 25 (efe-epa).- Tibetans living in exile in India on Thursday marked the 30th birthday of their second-most important spiritual leader who was swept away by the Chinese authorities 24 years ago when he was just six.

Gendun Choekyi Nyima was taken into "protective custody" along with his family three days after he was chosen on May 14, 1995 as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second-most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

As the whereabouts of Nyima and his family remain unknown, the Chinese government has nominated its own 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu.

But most Tibetans are still loyal to Nyima and hope he is alive. There have been repeated appeals from the international community and Tibetans but nobody has been allowed to contact him or his family.

A statement from the India-based government-in-exile called on China to "immediately free him and allow him to return to his monastery, Tashi Lhunpo, and assume his vital role as a religious leader."

Festivities gripped the suburb of McLeod Ganj, which headquarters the Tibetan government-in-exile, in the Dharamshala region of the Himalayan Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

Special prayers were held for the safety of the missing spiritual leader. Devotees paid their respects in front of a visage, frozen as a five-year-old ruddy-cheeked monk.

The Tibetan Women's Association also held a peace march to highlight Nyima's incarceration in China.

Holding Tibetan flags and sporting white caps and white shawls, the marchers walked, singing hymns, on mountainous roads in the region.

A group of 30 bikers from Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and Students for a Free Tibet (STF), have also started a rally from McLeod Ganj to New Delhi to observe the 30th birthday of Nyima.

"We believe in him as the real Panchen Lama and we demand that the Chinese government release him immediately," Tenzing Jigme, the TYC president, told Efe at the beginning of the rally on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old reiterated that they rejected any interference from China as the government in Beijing had no role in matters of Tibetan tradition and spirituality.

The Panchen Lama's disappearance had led to a global outcry as China has consistently refused to divulge his whereabouts.

In an open letter to the missing leader, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom advocated for his immediate release, stating that his "tragic situation reflects China's sinicizing and politicizing Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan reincarnation system."

"Communist China considers religion a poison, demonizes His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and forces monasteries and Tibetans inside Tibet to worship Communist Party leadership; yet it claims the right to recognize incarnations of His Holinesses Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama," USCIRF head Tenzin Dorjee said in the letter.

The commission is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the US Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad.

It makes foreign policy recommendations to the government intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.

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