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5 Stunning Facts About "The World's Youngest Political Prisoner"

Chinese authorities detained a six year-old Tibetan boy along with his family in 1995, and they haven't been heard from since. Gendun Choekyi Nyima, once dubbed the world's youngest political prisoner, was detained because Tibetans living under Chinese rule revere him as the Panchen Lama, a major religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

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1. China's government detained a six year-old Tibetan boy and has held him incommunicado for 20 years.

International Tibet Network / Via freepanchenlama.org

China's authorities "disappeared" Gendun Choekyi Nyima when he was six because the Dalai Lama in 1995 identified the boy as the next incarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-highest religious leader. Why did China do this, and why has China kept him captive all this time? "Tibetan Buddhism has a religious hierarchy with the Dalai Lama at the top, followed by the Panchen Lama," explains The Economist. "The Dalai Lama is traditionally involved in recognizing the Panchen Lama, and the Panchen Lama is part of the process by which each new Dalai Lama is chosen. China has its eyes on a complex struggle that will play out after the death of the current... Dalai Lama." Incredibly, with the real Panchen Lama "disappeared," China's authorities went on to choose "its own successor to the current Dalai Lama," widely viewed as a puppet of China's government.

2. Since the disappearance of the Panchen Lama, human rights in Tibet worsened.

Tibetan Center for Human Rights & Democracy / Via tchrd.org

According to U.S. News & World Report, "more than 140 Tibetans, men and women, lay people and monks, have died since 2009 protesting Beijing's rule and demanding the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in 1959 following an aborted uprising by Tibet's elites against the Communist Party."

Moreover, "China's Communist Party had installed 'special working groups' at Tibet's county levels to ensure patriotism," and recently these groups "have been extended to every village and every monastery, exercising an unprecedented level of control while also funneling money and resources to groups who cooperate." Yet despite "obsessive vilification" of the Dalai Lama by the Chinese government "he remains immensely popular and influential among Tibetan Buddhists," and the Tibetan people haven't forgotten the captive Panchen Lama.

3. China has refused provide details of the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama - but you can help.

BBC News / Via bbc.com

You can contact China's embassies and consuls in your home country (phone numbers, emails, and embassy/consul websites publicly available via this link), to urge them to provide details of the whereabouts and well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama - whom many consider to be "one of the world's longest-serving political prisoners."

You can also contact your national leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere to ask them to call China to account for its actions against the Panchen Lama and others.

4. China's clampdown on religious rights has extended to Catholics and others, with deadly consequences.

Via New York Times

China's government isn't only going after Tibetan Buddhists, it's imprisoning anyone, no matter how influential (or not) they may be, that they perceive as a threat to their one-party rule. This year a Chinese Catholic bishop, Cosma Shi Enxiang, reportedly has died while being held in secret detention for 14 years by the government. Worse, the bishop had been imprisoned in jails and labor camps by China's government for decades prior to that, for the "offence" of refusing to renounce his loyalty to the Catholic Church which ordained him.

5. He's been heralded in a new song, "Panchen Lama Blues," by The Low Mice.

w.soundcloud.com / Via SoundCloud

Spread the word and get involved to help determine what happened to Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama. More information and ways to get involved are available via www.tibet.net.

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