China Urged to Free Tibet’s Missing Panchen Lama on Eve of 31st Birthday

The religious leader’s whereabouts and condition remain unknown 25 years since his abduction.

China Urged to Free Tibet’s Missing Panchen Lama on Eve of 31st Birthday

On the eve of the Panchen Lama’s 31st birthday, religious freedom advocates called on China Friday to release the second most well-known religious figure in Tibet, believed to be languishing under house arrest in an undisclosed location.

On May 14, 1995, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, recognized six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11thPanchen Lama and three days later, Chinese authorities took him and his family away, installing another boy in his place. He was for years considered the world’s youngest political prisoner.

The religious leader’s whereabouts and condition remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance.

“Amidst the increasing spread of the coronavirus around the globe, we are ever more worried about his health condition at this moment,” said Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“We insist that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately release a televised statement on the well-being of the Panchen Lama and confirm that he is alive. The world community must also insist that China immediately release the Panchen Lama.”

Separately, USCIRF issued a statement saying the group is “deeply worried” about the Panchen Lama, who it recently added to a project on religious prisoners of conscience.

On his 31st birthday, we urge the Chinese government to show some compassion and free Gedhun Choekyi Nyima,” the commission said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department echoed USCIRF’s call for China to provide information on the Panchen Lama’s situation on his birthday and amid a crackdown on the Tibetan community.

The United States remains deeply concerned that PRC (People’s Republic of China) authorities continue to take steps to eliminate the religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of Tibetans, including their ongoing destruction of monastic dwellings and other structures important to the study and practice of the faith,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Members of Tibetan Buddhist communities, like all faith communities, should be able to select, educate, and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference. We call on Beijing to make public the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and wellbeing immediately and to uphold its international commitments to promote religious freedom for all persons.”

EU and Japan

Similar sentiments were expressed in the European Union, where Mikulas Peksa, a member of the European Parliament and president of its Tibet Interest Group, published an open letter urging the the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, to pressure Beijing over the Panchen Lama.

“We urge the European Commission to call upon the Chinese government to finally ensure freedom of religion and belief in Tibet, by freeing Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents immediately without any conditions, together with all Tibetan political prisoners,” he wrote in a letter signed by 31 of his fellow lawmakers.

Days earlier, the Office of Tibet, Japan, launched a month-long campaign, calling on world governments and human rights organizations to pressure China for the Panchen Lama’s release.

In an appeal letter the office urged the Japanese government and members of the Japanese Parliament to “raise and reiterate the call upon the Chinese government to free Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents,” citing Beijing’s “total disregard of its obligations to international human rights standards, as well as its own laws and regulations.”

Earlier US pressure

In October, at a conference hosted by the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts held in Dharamsala, India—seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile—U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback called on China “to release immediately the Tibetan-recognized Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima or share the truth about his fate with the world.”

Brownback said at the time that the successor to the Dalai Lama will be chosen by the Tibetan people themselves and not by Beijing, which claims authority over the process of recognition.

In January, a bill to strengthen U.S. policy in support of Tibet won strong approval by the House of Representatives. The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) was passed by a vote of 392 to 22, and now requires a vote in the Senate, which is also reviewing a companion bill.

Co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. James McGovern and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the TPSA when signed into law will require China to allow the opening of a U.S. consulate in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa before any new Chinese consulate can open in the United States.

It will also establish a U.S. policy that the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including future successors to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, is a decision to be made by Tibetans free from Chinese government interference.

Chinese authorities meanwhile maintain a tight grip on the Tibetan region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Contradicting Myanmar Army Denials, Rakhine Pays to Rebuild 528 Houses Burned in Attacks

Reconstruction budget gives detailed account of villages’ losses in March 22 air and artillery attacks.

Contradicting Myanmar Army Denials, Rakhine Pays to Rebuild 528 Houses Burned in Attacks

The government in Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state has paid to rebuild more than 500 houses that were burned in attacks by aircraft and artillery or torched by soldiers last month, disaster officials said Friday, in a revelation that appeared to undercut the national military’s denial that the attacks took place.

The state government in Rakhine, where a 16-month-old conflict between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army has killed scores of civilians, paid more than 90,000,000 kyats ($65,000) on Tuesday to replace the houses burned in Tin Ma village in Kyauktaw township on March 22, said Win Zaw Htay, the director of Rakhine State Natural Disaster Management Department.

“A total of 528 houses were burned down in Tin Ma village, Tin Ma village tract, in Kyauktaw Township,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We have provided 79,400,000 kyats ($56,000) for construction materials for 397 houses and 13,100,000 kyats ($9,200) for another 131 houses. We have given a total of 92,500,000 kyats ($65,000) via Mrauk-U Township disaster management department on April 22,” he added.

On March 30, villagers from Tin Ma told a news conference that artillery fire and aerial bombardments by Myanmar forces had killed three civilians and burned scores of houses in their communities between March 12-22, amid fighting between Myanmar forces and the Arakan Army.

The villagers accused the Myanmar Army of conducting aerial bombings of civilian communities that destroyed about 150 homes and a monastery in Pyaing Taing village, while government soldiers on the ground torched houses in neighboring Tin Ma village.

Pyaing Taing residents said they believe that Myanmar soldiers intentionally bombed and burned down some houses in their community.

“The aerial bombing burned many houses on March 12, while many villagers were there,” said villager Maung Ba Saw.

On March 21, Myanmar soldiers also entered Tin Ma village, which has more than 500 houses, and later burned down dozens of homes, residents of that village said.

“They had entered the village, searched some houses and taken some property they wanted. That was all,” Tin Ma resident Zaw Aung said at the news conference on March 30.

“But on March 22, they had entered into the village around 11 a.m. and fired their guns indiscriminately in all directions,” he said. “They started burning down the houses around 11:10 a.m.”

Detailing the compensation policies for Tin Ma villages, Win Zaw Htay said the guidelines call for paying 100,000 kyats ($70) for bamboo and thatch-roofed houses, 200,000 kyats ($140) for wooden and zinc-roofed houses and 250,000 ($175) for cement houses.

RFA made repeated attempts Friday to get a comment from the Myanmar military on the compensation paid to rebuild the burned houses, but received no reply.

On April 13, the military commander-in-chief’s office said the Rakhine villagers’ allegations of mid-March burnings and aerial bombings were stories fabricated to damage the military’s reputation. The statement, carried on state television, said Myanmar security forces had inspected Tin Ma village and found it intact.

Military denials notwithstanding, local officials are saying they are willing to pursue further compensation if there is proof that more houses were burned down.

“We have problems in surveying the houses burned down in these village because they are inaccessible. It is hard to estimate the total number of houses burned down,” said Kyauktaw Township MP Oo Tun Win.

“We can roughly say that many villages in Pyaing Taing and Mone Than Pyin area were burned down,” said the Arakan National Party state lawmaker.

“The ANP is meeting families in the township to assess the number of people affected. We will compile accurate reports on how much each family has been affected, and present it to the authorities and relevant organizations,” he told RFA.

Nyi Pu, a Tin Ma villager, said he is not sure about returning to his former home under current conditions.

“I’d prefer to rebuild my home in my village, but there is no guarantee of security in my former village,” he told RFA.

“The military troops enter the village and arrest the people at will. We are too scared to live. I will only return and rebuild my home on the condition that there are guarantees for my life and security.”

Scores of civilians have died and tens of thousands of others have been displaced by fighting between Myanmar and Arakan forces in Rakhine and Chin states since early 2019.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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