Tibetan exiles observed the 24th birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, the highest ranking Tibetan Buddhist leader after the Dalai Lama, whose whereabouts remain unknown after Chinese authorities took him into custody 18 years ago.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was six years old when he was taken into custody in 1995, shortly after Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, recognized him as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. Since then, the boy and his family have not been seen in public.
Yesterday, Tibetan activists held protests in front of the Chinese embassies to call for release of the Panchen Lama. In Dharamsala, hundreds of Tibetans gathered at the main square of McLeodganj wearing Panchen Lama's face masks.
China has said several times over the years that the young man is safe and in Tibet, and does not want to be disturbed. Tibetan rights grup have claimed that Panchen Lama's parents are currently placed under house arrest in their hometown and not allowed to meet anyone.
In 1995, Chinese authorities named their own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, to counter the Dalai Lama's influence. Most exiled Tibetans do not recognize him.