On Wednesday, Tibetans celebrated the birthday of the Panchen Lama Gedhun Chökyi Nyima, who Chinese authorities took in to custody seventeen years ago when the boy was six years old. Nyima went missing shortly after being announced as the Panchen Lama by His Holiness the Dalai Lama three days earlier on May 14, 1995; neither he nor his parents have been seen since that time.
One year later, Chinese authorities confirmed that they were holding Gedhun Chökyi Nyima, insisting that they had taken him into “protective custody.” They have stated numerous times that he is safe in Tibet, where he wishes to not be disturbed. China, meanwhile, named their own Panchen Lama, who does not enjoy the support of many Tibetans.
Traditionally, the Panchen Lama has played a role in selecting new incarnations of the Dalai Lama.