Reconstructed image shows Panchen Lama at 30

Apr 24, 2019

As the Panchen Lama turns 30 on 25 April, a special image was unveiled to show how Tibet’s most high-profile political prisoner may look like 24 years after his abduction by the Chinese government.

The International Tibet Network, of which Australia Tibet Council is a member, commissioned a British forensic artist listed with the UK National Crime Agency to produce a reconstructed image of the 30-year-old Panchen Lama to bring back the global attention to the missing Tibetan religious leader’s case.

The image was unveiled on BBC’s The One Show on the eve of the Panchen Lama’s 30th birthday.

Kyinzom Dhongdue, Executive Officer of Australia Tibet Council, said:

“The tragic story of the Panchen Lama epitomises the human rights crisis in Chinese-occupied Tibet. It also exposes China’s deep sense of insecurity over its lack of legitimacy in Tibet. Holding a highly influential Tibetan religious figure in its captivity is part of China’s broader aims to control the spiritual and cultural life of Tibet and interfere in the reincarnation process of important Buddhist leaders including the Dalai Lama.”

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born on 25 April 1989. On 14 May 1995, shortly after his sixth birthday, he was publicly recognised by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second most revered religious leader in Tibetan Buddhism.

Three days later, he was abducted along with the rest of his family, becoming the world’s youngest political prisoner. He has not been seen or heard from since.

A few months after his disappearance, China appointed another young boy Gyaltsen Norbu as its own Panchen Lama. Despite repeated requests from Tibetans and Tibet campaign groups, human rights organisations, governments and United Nations agencies, the Chinese government has repeatedly refused to provide any credible information about his location or his well-being.

One of the traditional duties of the Panchen Lama is to take an active role in identifying the successor to the Dalai Lama. Beijing has made it clear that it aims to take control of the succession of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama as part of a more comprehensive set of controls over Tibetan Buddhism.

In late March 2019, the Chinese government stated once again that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama “must comply with Chinese laws and regulations”. The following week, it released a white paper on Tibet, stating that measures taken by Beijing over the past 12 years to give the Communist Party, rather than Tibetan Buddhists, the authority on matters of reincarnation were “proceeding well”.

In Australia and around the world, Tibetans and supporters today are calling on China to release the Panchen Lama.

Media contact:

Kyinzom Dhongdue                    0416 695 590
Executive Officer          
Australia Tibet Council