Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Free the Panchen Lama ---- Free Tibet

I think it is important to have a world view.  It is important to care about the world around us, to care about the people around us.  We are fortunate to live in Canada where we can add our voice against countries that are blatantly discarding human rights, especially at a time like this where the world is uniting in protest regarding the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is considered to be the temporal ruler of Buddhism.  He is the spiritual and religious leader of the Tibetan government in exile.  Just as Gandhi was a symbol of freedom from British rule for India, so is the Dalai Lama a symbol of freedom from China’s rule of Tibet.

In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of his unswerving commitment to peaceful protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.  He is highly regarded as a result and has been received by government leaders throughout the world.  In 2006 he was one of only four people to ever receive an honorary Canadian citizenship.

In Tibet, displaying photos of the Dalai Lama is illegal.  Many Tibetans remove his photo but display the empty picture frame as a symbolic representation of his image.  This simple act is a powerful expression of noncompliance with Chinese rule in Tibet.

Who I really want to talk about today though is the Panchen Lama.  The than 6-year old boy whose picture is at the beginning of my post.

The Panchen Lama is considered the spiritual head of Buddhism.  The current Dalai Lama named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama on May 14, 1995, but the government of the People's Republic of China quickly named another child.  The Panchen Lama bears part of the responsibility for finding the incarnation of the Dalai Lama and vice versa.

In May 1995, Chinese occupying forces in Tibet abducted the six year-old Panchen Lama from his home in Tibet.  The whereabouts and welfare of the Panchen Lama are still unknown more than 12 years since he was abducted by the Chinese authorities.  It is believed that he and his family are imprisoned, while Beijing contends that they are living under a secret identity for protection and privacy.  Chinese authorities state that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has been taken into protective custody, but there is no reference to what, or whom he must be protected from.  Many people believe that, with no evidence supporting his continued existence, he has been imprisoned or worse.  This lack of credible evidence regarding his whereabouts has led some concerned buddhists to view his absence as a forced disappearance.

His abduction is a crime not only against an innocent child, but against the Tibetan nation and its way of life.

Despite additional calls from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UK through the EU-China and the UK-China Human Rights Dialogues, China has defied numerous calls on the case.  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has requested to "allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima whilst respecting his right to privacy, and that of his parents".  China maintains that "the so-called Panchen Lama was a normal child, leading a healthy and happy life."

Tibet is situated between the two ancient civilizations of central China and India, but the tangled mountain ranges of the Tibetan Plateau and the towering Himalayas serve to distance it from both.  Tibetan history is characterized by a special dedication to the Buddhist religion.  Tibet is nicknamed "the roof of the world" or "the land of snows".

Our government has called upon China to fully respect human rights and peaceful protest.  To succeed in putting real pressure on China we need to join the world community in a call for the freedom of the Panchen Lama.  Hopefully here and now they can release him and his family.  Freeing Tibet will not happen in my lifetime, but I hope that by using our democratic right to protest and speak out it will let our government know that China's policy against Tibet is not what we the people want.

This is a chance for all of us to be bigger than ourselves.  To join with the world by showing our outrage, by joining the ranks of great men who went before us, such as; Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.,  and the Dalai Lama to help free a repressed people.

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