China's Panchen Lama visits Tibet

China's Panchen Lama with Premier Zhiang Zemin
Gyaltsen Norbu as a boy with Chinese president Jiang Zemin

24th May 2016

As China's puppet leader visits, new report blasts human rights in Tibet

The man appointed by the Chinese government as one of Tibet's most senior spiritual leaders has been visiting Tibet this month. Gyaltsen Norbu, referred to by China as the 11th Panchen Lama, was appointed after the abduction of six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who had been nominated as Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama. Gyaltsen Norbu is referred to as the "fake Panchen Lama" by Tibetans inside Tibet.

Political role

According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, the role of Panchen Lama, considered second only to the Dalai Lama in authority, is filled by identifying the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama. Within days of the Dalai Lama's nomination of Gedhumn Choekyi Nyima, he had disappeared and neither he nor his family have been seen since. China's government says he is "living a normal life" - a line repeated by China's UK ambassador when challenged by Free Tibet and Tibetans at a talk last week. No evidence or corroboration of this claim has ever been offered.

Gyaltsen Norbu was the son of Communist Party officials. Since his appointment he has lived in Beijing and visits Tibet intermittently. State media always reports a warm welcome on his carefully managed visits but Tibetan protesters, bloggers, writers and musicians consistently call for the return of the "true" Panchen Lama.

Gyaltsen Norbu is officially the highest-ranking Tibetan Buddhist in China and serves as vice president of the Buddhist Association of China. He also has a political role in China as a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.

Last year, the Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguo, advised him to “draw a clear line” between himself and the Dalai Lama, telling him that he should show loyalty to China and protect its national unity.

Incidents like this are an ongoing theme in China's attempts to control and repress religion in Tibet. Upon the death of the current Dalai Lama, China will once again try to appoint its own candidate for his reincarnation. Free Tibet has recently launched the Beyond Belief campaign, aiming to get international consensus that any Dalai Lama appointed by Beijing will not be recognised as legitimate. You can sign the petition here.

Human Rights Watch Report slams Tibet human rights

Global human rights organisation Human Rights Watch yesterday released a detailed report on repression in Tibet and in particular the suppression of free speech. According to HRW's China director, Sophie Richardson:

Tibetan areas are the forefront of the Chinese government’s country-wide crackdown on peaceful dissent. The authorities are treating all Tibetans as potential dissidents and are trying to extend surveillance to the entire Tibetan community.

Examining 479 detentions from 2013 to 2015, the report found almost all arose from "peaceful expressions of dissent", rather than calls for Tibetan independence. Free Tibet has noted the same trend to punish Tibetans for any activity that could be deemed political, such as language campaigner Tashi Wangchuk and imprisoned writer Lomig.

It is likely that this increasingly deep level of surveillance, control and punishment has contributed to a reduction in the number of protests in Tibet in recent months, although Tibetans continue to assert their opposition to Chinese rule.

Say no to China's plan for the Dalai Lama

Tibetans will utterly reject a Dalai Lama forced on them by Beijing. Sign the petition to call on political and religious leaders to tell China that they will do the same and will never recognise any Dalai Lama it appoints.