China Detains Olympic Protesters on Everest

2007-04-25
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KATHMANDU, April 25, 2007—Chinese authorities have detained four U.S. citizens who staged a protest at the Chinese Everest base camp against Beijing's plans to bring the Olympic torch through the region.

On arriving at the base camp, the activists from the U.S.-based Students for a Free Tibet group unfurled a banner which read "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008," Kirsten Westby from Boulder, Colorado told RFA's Tibetan service by telephone from a holding cell.

"We had everything on video and we wore shirts with a message to the International Olympic Committee that said, 'No torch through Tibet,'" Westby said. The video was later made available on YouTube.

Four detained on Everest

The protesters were identified by a statement on the group's Web site as Tenzin Dorje, the first known exiled Tibetan to return to the region to protest, Kirsten Westby, Mac Sutherlin, and videographer Shannon Service.

They were detained by base camp authorities shortly after staging a brief ceremony in which they lit an Olympic torch and sang the Tibetan National Anthem, members of the group said.

"It's five of us involved in the action and four of us at this point in time have been detained," Westby said by mobile phone from inside what appeared to be a police cell.

"We are sitting at Everest base camp in a small building with bars on the windows. We were detained by the authorities here at the base camp. One of the members of our team who has been detained is a journalist videographer."

This action is an announcement to the world and Tibetans out there. We don't believe that China should have the honor of hosting the Olympics.

More than 70 Chinese climbers were believed to be in the base camp preparing for a trial climb to see if it would be possible to take a torch to the top of 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) Mount Everest during the torch relay, which has become a political minefield for China.

"We did this because we want to send a message that China cannot legitimize their occupation of Tibet through an Olympic campaign. Their strategy to bring the [Olympic] torch down through Tibet is a campaign to legitimize their occupation of the land."

High-profile rights campaigns

"This action is an announcement to the world and to Tibetans out there. We don't believe that China should have the honor of hosting the Olympics. It should be given to a country that has a clean human rights record, and we have taken a step to send that message to the world," Westby said.

Hein Verbruggen, head of the IOC Coordination Commission overseeing the Beijing Games, said the IOC didn't want to get involved in political issues.

"We feel that bringing the Games here ... will be beneficial for the social and economic development of this country," he was quoted as saying by the International Herald Tribune.

Chinese troops annexed Tibet in 1948; the region's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled the country in 1959. He has accused China of carrying out "cultural genocide" in Tibet. Beijing has said he will play no part in Tibet's future.

Beijing has already run into controversy after it proposed sending the torch relay through Taiwan, which has been governed separately since the ending of the Chinese civil war in 1949 with a communist victory on the mainland.

Beijing has faced another high-profile human rights campaign in recent weeks, with actress Mia Farrow and director Steven Spielberg labeling the 2008 Games the "Genocide Olympics" because of China's perceived failure to use its hefty economic influence with the Sudanese government over the violence in its troubled region of Darfur.

The authorities have rejected any meaningful link between Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympics and the problems of Darfur.

Original reporting in Tibetan by Dolkar. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Original reporting in Tibetan

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CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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