Tibetans in Dharamsala today marked the 23rd birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist religious figure whose whereabouts remain unknown after Chinese authorities took him into custody 17 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. Tibetan activists are calling for his release.
China has said several times over the years that the young man is safe and in Tibet, and does not want to be disturbed.
China's detention of the Panchen Lama is one of the oldest involuntary disappearance cases in the country, according to he United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
The Panchen Lama is the second ranking spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism. In 1995, Chinese authorities named their own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, to counter the Dalai Lama's influence. Gyaltsen Norbu has been made a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, one of the country's highest political bodies.
Most exiled Tibetans do not recognize him. Many Tibetans are angry about Chinese rule and what they say are Beijing's efforts to suppress their traditions and religion.