John Prescott urged to seek access to missing Panchen Lama

Thursday, 16 May 2002

John Prescott urged to seek access to missing Panchen Lama
Deputy Prime Minister's visit to China coincides with seventh anniversary of Panchen Lama's abduction
Free Tibet Campaign has called on the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to seek access to the abducted 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, when he visits China this weekend and meets with leaders including Premier - in - waiting Wen Jiabao. Free Tibet Campaign wrote to Mr Prescott this week, asking for a commitment to raise the case.

Friday 17 May is the seventh anniversary of the abduction of Nyima, who was recognised by the Dalai Lama in May 1995 as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. The child, then six years old, and his family disappeared from their home in Lhari, (Nagchu Prefecture, north of Lhasa) and have not returned since. Although reports by Chinese officials have varied, the family are understood to be under some form of house arrest near Beijing. The Chinese government has refused repeated requests for independent access, including from High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. Last month, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima passed his 13th birthday in custody, having spent more than half of his life away from his home. Chadrel Rinpoche, the head of the search committee, was released earlier this year after completing a 6 year prison sentence for "selling state secrets" and "plotting to split the country." He is thought to be under house arrest.

"China has demonstrated recently that international pressure works by releasing Tibetan political prisoner Ngawang Choephel. Whatever the purpose of Mr Prescott's numerous visits to China, human rights must be on the agenda and he cannot brush aside a simple humanitarian request such as the release of the Panchen Lama." said Alison Reynolds, Director of Free Tibet Campaign. "Mr Prescott should remind Wen Jiabao that it would reflect well on the Chinese government to address some of its problems before the 2008 Olympic Games when the eyes of the world will be upon them." she added.

In September 2000, during a round of the EU / China human rights dialogue in Beijing, Chinese officials unexpectedly produced two photographs they claimed to be of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, then around 11 years old. In one picture he was playing table tennis; in another he was writing Chinese characters on a chalkboard. The same photographs were shown to the UK government in London the following month. Robin Cook was later forced to admit to the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the UK representatives had not requested to keep the photographs. In August 2001 a delegation from the Polish Parliament pressed Tibetan officials for copies of the photographs. Although local leader Ragdi initially agreed that the Polish Parliamentarians could have the photographs, the promise has since been retracted, on the basis that Nyima and his family do not want the peace of their "ordinary lives" to be disturbed.

For more information contact: Alison Reynolds, 020 7833 9958, Mobile 07711 843884

Note: Exiled Tibetan Ngawang Choephel was released in January 2002 on medical parole prior to the Bush / Jiang summit after serving six years of an 18 year sentence for "espionage."