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Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is once again calling  for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Chinese government forcibly disappeared 27 years ago. On May 14, 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose the then six-year-old Gedhun to be the 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism. Three days later, the Chinese government abducted him, only to announce its own selection of the Panchen Lama months later.

“The international community will never forget Gedhum Choekyi Nyima, now one of the world’s longest-held prisoners of conscience.  We will continue to bring attention to his case until he is free, no matter how long it takes,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza who advocates for Gedhun as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOC) Project. “We call on the Chinese government to show proof of Gedhun’s wellbeing and allow independent experts to visit him.”

Chinese authorities continue to target high-profile Tibetan Buddhist religious figures and supporters of the Dalai Lama. In 2021, monk Sherab Gyatso, a well-known religious philosopher and religious education advocate, was sentenced to 10 years in prison allegedly for “inciting separatism.” Reportedly, he is not receiving necessary medical care while in prison, following a pattern of state mistreatment of Tibetan prisoners that have resulted in many deaths.

“The U.S. government must continue to identify and sanction Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for severe religious freedom violations, as it did when it sanctioned Chen Quanguo, who developed the genocide playbook being used against Uyghurs in Xinjiang when he was the Communist Party Secretary of Tibet,” added USCIRF Vice Chair Nury Turkel. “USCIRF urges the U.S. government to ensure that the Tibetan Policy and Support Act is fully enforced and work with like-minded countries to hold accountable the Chinese government for its severe violations of religious freedom.”

In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF documented the Chinese government’s continued suppression of Tibetan Buddhism. In an effort to sinicize religion in Tibet, local authorities organized seminars to indoctrinate monks and nuns at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, restricted Tibetans’ access to temples with heavy security presence, and destroyed sites and symbols of religious significance. Since 1999, USCIRF has recommend that the U.S. Department of State designate China as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of international religious freedom.  The U.S. State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999.

U.S. Representative James McGovern also advocates on behalf of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project.