London March 19-23, 2013
Press briefing at the Legatum Institute, Friday, March 22, 9.45 for 10 am

  • Since 2009, more than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, calling for freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. This is one of the biggest waves of self-immolation as political protest globally in the past 60 years.
  • Kirti Rinpoche, who is based in India, is the head lama in exile of one of the most important and influential monasteries in Tibet, Kirti in Ngaba, where the self-immolations began. More than 30 self-immolations – nearly a third of the total – have been carried out by Kirti monks and laypeople in Ngaba, most recently on Saturday (March 16) when a 28-year old Kirti monk set himself on fire and died (ICT report, Two self-immolations in Tibet: Kirti monk on crackdown anniversary and woman in Dzoge).

Kyabje Kirti Rinpoche, the head lama of Kirti monastery and 40 associated monasteries, will speak to press at the Legatum Institute on March 22 about the self-immolations and current crisis in Tibet.

Kirti Rinpoche’s visit to London, where he will meet Parliamentarians, government officials, NGOs and the Tibetan community, is the final stop in a trip to Europe, during which he spoke in Geneva during the UN Human Rights Council, briefed government officials in Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin, and addressed a Tibet solidarity rally of thousands of Tibetans and their supporters together with European politicians in Brussels.

Kirti Rinpoche’s visit to Europe coincided with hardline statements made by the governor of Ngaba prefecture in eastern Tibet accusing Kirti monks of ‘collaboration’ with lamas in exile to ‘incite’ self-immolations. Following Kirti Rinpoche’s arrival in Brussels on March 6, the Chinese embassy contacted Belgian government officials to complain about senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and the President of the Senate meeting Kirti Rinpoche. As a result a scheduled appointment at the Foreign Ministry with the Head of the Asia Desk was changed at the last minute to a meeting nearby with a retired ambassador, and the President of the Senate postponed a meeting with Kirti Rinpoche.

Kirti Rinpoche said: “The Chinese authorities are making baseless accusations without evidence instead of addressing legitimate Tibetan grievances. The self-immolations emerge from the unbearable oppression imposed by the Chinese authorities and their policies undermining Tibetan religion and culture. Not only do they seek to repress the truth in Tibet, but they sought to do so even in the EU, where they pressured officials not to meet me despite the fact that it is my understanding that freedom of expression is one of the most cherished European values. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, dialogue is the only way to solve the issue of Tibet. And since truth is on our side, I am ready to discuss the crisis in Tibet face to face with the Chinese ambassador during my travels in Europe.”

Kirti Rinpoche has lived in India since he followed the Dalai Lama into exile at the time of the Tibet Uprising in March, 1959. In the 1980s he returned to Tibet and China, where he met many Chinese dignitaries and the former Panchen Lama, who was at the time the most senior religious leader remaining in Tibet and the head of the Tibetan government.

Kate Saunders, the International Campaign for Tibet in London, said: “Since the self-immolations began at Kirti Rinpoche’s monastery in Tibet, the Chinese authorities have dramatically escalated tensions by intensifying the military buildup and strengthening the very measures that are the root causes of the acts, including aggressive campaigns against loyalty to the Dalai Lama. Kirti Rinpoche will speak about the more formal measures imposed recently to criminalise the self-immolations, which have led to a senior Kirti monk being sentenced to death, suspended for two years, for “inciting” self-immolations.” (ICT report, Distress at death sentence for Tibetan accused of ‘inciting ‘self-immolation’).