Missing case of The 11th Panchen Lama – Tibet’s second highest spiritual leader – raised in UK Parliament

A high-level Tibetan delegation, comprised of Sikyong Penpa Tsering, President of Central Tibetan Administration (aka Tibetan Government-in-exile) and His Eminence Zeegkyab Rinpoche, the Abbot, and Venerable Kelkhang Rinpoche, the General Secretary of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, visited the UK Parliament on 25th April. The day coincided with the 34th birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second highest spiritual leader, who has been missing since May 1995.

Hosted by The All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), the special hearing on Religious Freedom in Tibet was chaired by Lord David Alton. It was attended by MPs including Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the FoRB, Fiona Bruce MP, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and Tim Loughton MP, Co-Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet as well as parliamentary staff and NGOs and representatives from different faith groups.

Following a busy day in the UK parliament, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery released an update on their social media titled – “Delegation in the UK Parliament – 25th April 2023”. It reads:

HE Zeegkyab Rinpoche with Nigel Evans MP, Deputy Speaker, House of Commons

“His Eminence Zeegkyab Rinpoche, the Abbot, and Venerable Kelkhang Rinpoche, the General Secretary of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, joined Hon’ble Sikyong Penpa Tsering, President of the Central Tibetan Administration, and others to highlight the continued lack of Religious Freedom in Tibet, particularly the case of our beloved spiritual leader Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, in the UK Parliament on his 34th birthday – 25th April.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama recognised Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the true reincarnation of the previous 10th Panchen Lama on 14th May 1995. A few days after this announcement, the young six-year old Panchen Rinpoche, along with his parents and His Eminence Jadrel Rinpoche, Head of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Shigatse (Tibet), all went missing.

Lord Alton with HE Zeegkyab Rinpoche and Ven. Kelkhang Rinpoche with Tenzin Kunga, Chair of Tibetan Community UK

Thanks to Wera Webhouse MP, a “drop-in” session was held in the UK Parliament to highlight the plight of our spiritual leader. This first-time “drop-in” session provided a meaningful opportunity for MPs and their parliamentary staff to learn more about the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Tibetan Buddhist culture, and the case of the missing 11th Panchen Lama.

We were all very overwhelmed by the warm support and solidarity expressed by UK parliamentarians and officials. Nearly 30 MPs and their staff also came to see us in the Portcullis House during the “drop-in” session.

HE Zeegkyab Rinpoche with Tim Loughton MP, Co-Chair, APPG for Tibet

Later in the afternoon, Tim Loughton MP, Co-Chair of The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Tibet hosted a special session with Hon’ble Sikyong Penpa Tsering. Whilst giving the address, Sikyong Penpa Tsering also highlighted the historical relations between the United Kingdom and independent Tibet, and he urged the UK government to extend all its support towards the resolution of the China-Tibet conflict.

This was then followed by a 90-minute Hearing with Sikyong Penpa Tsering and His Eminence Zeegkyab Rinpoche amongst others. They spoke on the lack of Religious Freedom in Tibet and specially highlighted the case of the 11th Panchen Lama. Hosted by The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), this special hearing was chaired by Lord David Alton, a senior political figure from the House of Lords.

Nyima Lhamo, HE Zeegkyab Rinpoche, Lord David Alton, Sikyong Penpa Tsering and Sonam Frasi (Representative of HH the Dalai Lama)

The day ended with the 34th Birthday Dinner Reception in honour of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, at the Cinnamon Club, which was attended by Sikyong Penpa Tsering and MPs.

The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery wishes to acknowledge and express our heartfelt appreciation and thanks to all concerned stakeholders including The Office of Tibet, The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) and the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery UK Trust for their amazing support.”

Delivered and Submitted by the Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery

To The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), UK Parliament, on 25th April 2023 

“As the Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery I appreciate the opportunity to meet you on this, the 34th birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedun Choekyi Nyima.

I would like to use this precious opportunity today to make a fervent appeal to the British Government on behalf of millions of disciples of His Holiness the Panchen Lama. I would also address this appeal to the followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and any other religion throughout the world, to those who value human rights, freedom of religion and belief and to advocates of the rights of the child.

Currently, we see the Chinese Government undertaking ruthless and restrictive policies in Tibet. The situation is worsening day by day. We see human rights being trampled upon, religious freedom and rights of the child being denied. Those Tibetans who disagree with the Chinese Government are being arbitrarily detained with many being disappeared. I would like to explain this situation in Tibet in the context of the disappearance of an eminent spiritual leader, namely the 11th Panchen Lama.

In 1989, the 10th Panchen Lama died suddenly and mysteriously while in the town of Shigatse in Tibet, where our main Tashi Lhunpo monastery is located. Subsequently, according to Tibetan Buddhist convention, H.H. the Dalai Lama announced on M14th May 1995, his recognition of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima from Nagchu in Tibet as the unmistaken reincarnation. This was also in accordance with the historical tradition of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the father and son, being involved with the recognition of each other as well as in their teacher-student relationship.

Three days after the announcement, twenty-eight years ago, on 17th May 1995, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year-old child was abducted, along with his family, by the Chinese authorities.

Later in 1995 the Chinese Government blatantly interfered in our religious process and forcefully appointed a child by the name of Gyaltsen Norbu as a fake 11th Panchen Lama. Since then, he has been used as a political tool by the Chinese Government.

As a result of this the monastic community of Tashi Lhunpo and the greater Tibetan Buddhist community, including people of Tibet and throughout the Himalayan region, have been denied religious freedom.

Equally importantly, the Panchen Lama has been denied his rights as a normal human being. This action is one of the oldest continuing cases of enforced disappearances in the world.

According to our Tashi Lhunpo religious education system, by the age of 34 the Panchen Lama should have completed all the fundamental elements of his religious education, including gaining his Kachen degree (which is equivalent to a Doctorate), and undertaking his role to provide teachings to the community. However, we are greatly concerned that he has not received such an education. While China claims that he is leading a normal, healthy life, we cannot consider this to be believable without us – his disciples – and the wider international community witnessing that he is alive.

The issue of the 11th Panchen Lama is symbolic of the plight of Tibet and Tibetans in general. The Chinese government has clearly shown that they have no regard for their own claims that autonomy has been granted to the Tibetan people. In Tibet today, the situation is so critical that the very assertion of Tibetan identity, including upholding language rights, is regarded as a crime by the Chinese Government. Therefore, taking this opportunity today, we would like to make the following five requests.

1. We request the Parliament of the United Kingdom to request His Majesty’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Her Excellency Caroline Wilson, to meet the 11th Panchen Lama, who was taken from his home on 17th May 1995, to ascertain information concerning his whereabouts and well-being.

2. We urge the United Kingdom Government to continue to make requests of the Chinese Government to allow representatives to meet the 11th Panchen Lama. This undertaking was made by The Rt Hon Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean during the House of Lords Debate on Tibet in 1999, when she assured the House that ‘… we have repeatedly asked the Chinese to be able to visit [the Panchen Lama] in order to check on his wellbeing. We will continue to raise his case and those of other Tibetans with the Chinese at every opportunity.’

3. To draw attention to the situation of the Panchen Lama and to bring about his early release, I urge the British Government to mark the annual anniversaries of his birth on 25th April and his forced detention on 17th May in recognition of his loss of human rights, religious freedom, his loss of rights as a child and other fundamental rights of movement, residency and action.

4. Tibetan political prisoners: Tibetans have been subject to particularly brutal treatment in the Chinese justice system and contribute disproportionately to the number of political prisoners in China. In particular we ask for specific representations to be made to call for news of the present whereabouts of Chadrel Rinpoche, former Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet, who was head of the search committee for the 11th Panchen Lama and who was held in Chuandong prison for six years, and then for a further unknown period of house arrest.

5. We request the United Kingdom Government to support publicly the efforts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to resolve the issue of Tibet and to support his efforts to find a lasting solution to the issue of Tibet through the mutually beneficial Middle Way Approach, to reiterate this policy and work with like-minded governments to craft a multilateral strategy to achieve this.

The British people and Government have been consistently supportive of the Tibetan people, and I take this opportunity to express my gratitude. The purpose of our visit to London is to highlight the critical nature of the Tibetan situation, and in particular, the case of the 11th Panchen Lama. But the appeals I have made today are also connected to the mental wellbeing of all those who believe in the rights of all individuals to enjoy freedom of religion and basic human rights. I therefore hope that you will consider my submission favourably.

Tenzin Thupten Rabyal


Tashi Lhunpo Monastery


Useful links:

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, India

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery UK Trust

Tashi Lhunpo Monks: 50th Anniversary Year Tour 2023

Author: Tsering Passang (Tsamtruk)

NGO Professional | Activist | Author | Founder and Chairman, Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM)

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