BEIJING – Chinese police detained four foreigners near Beijing’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday after they unfurled giant “Free Tibet” banners, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Activist group Students for a Free Tibet said four activists from Britain and the United States managed to put up Tibetan flags and two 140-square-foot banners near Beijing’s iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium.
The pressure group released pictures of activists tying the banners to an electricity pole with the Olympic village in the background.
The banners, which read in English “One World, One Dream: Free Tibet” and “Tibet Will Be Free”, were up for an hour before Chinese police managed to bring them down, said a statement from the group.
“Days before the Olympic Games begin, and as all eyes turn to China, we appeal to the world to remember that millions of Tibetans are crying out for human rights and freedom,” said Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of the group.
Xinhua said the four protesters, who had entered China on tourist visas, were detained within minutes of the protest.
The authorities in Beijing have clamped intense security measures around the Olympic Village in the city’s northern suburbs, citing the threat of terrorist attacks, although critics say the measures are also aimed at stopping protests.
Activists seeking to pressure China over a range of human rights issues have long promised to use the Olympic Games, which open in Beijing on Friday, to raise awareness of their causes.
Wednesday’s protest was the first significant action by any group around the Olympic Village in the run-up to the Games.
Tibet, a region situated in the Himalayan mountains and known as the “rooftop of the world,” has been under Chinese rule since 1951.
Tibetans complain of ongoing political and religious repression by Chinese authorities, while China maintains it has helped the region to develop.
The issue came to a head in March when peaceful protests erupted into riots in the regional capital Lhasa, prompting a brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities that has been widely condemned around the world.
Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the Chinese clampdown on the unrest, which spread to neighbouring Tibetan-inhabited provinces of western and southwest China.
China insists it acted with restraint and that is forces killed only one Tibetan “rioter”. – AFP/vm
Channel News Asia