HONG KONG—Chinese authorities repeatedly and separately questioned five Americans detained for two days after they staged an Olympic-related protest on Mount Everest before expelling them on Friday, one of the protesters has told Radio Free Asia.
“There were about five questions,” Tibetan-American Tenzin Dorje told RFA’s Tibetan service. “Their main question was whether anyone helped from inside Tibet—who helped us to write in Tibetan and Chinese, and so on. Where did we eat? Where did we go by vehicle?”
On arriving at the base camp, the five—all activists from the U.S.-based Students for a Free Tibet group—unfurled a banner saying, “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were identified as Tenzin Dorje, the first known exiled Tibetan to return to the region to protest, Kirsten Westby, Mac Sutherlin, Jeff Friesen, and videographer Shannon Service.
Their protest came on the eve of an announcement of the route to be taken by the Olympic torch to Beijing, which will host the 2008 Games. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the five were detained for “carrying out illegal activities aimed at splitting China” for which they must be expelled from China.
“Finally we were released this morning and transported to the [Nepal] border post at Drum,” Tenzin Dorje said. “When we were first detained, we were taken to an office right at the base camp of Mount Everest…They started interrogating us there. They didn’t ask us questions in a group but took each individual to a separate room and conducted their interrogation there. One police officer asks questions, another takes notes, and two or three stand by with rifles ready. We were detained in the same office from 9.30 a.m. to about 10 p.m.”
For the whole night, we were taken from one police station to another,
“Then a group of Public Security officials arrived from Shigatse [in Chinese, Xigaze] and they searched all our belongings—and started another session of interrogation. Later in the night, we were taken to the Shekar [in Chinese, Xiegar] police station. There again they started another session of interrogation. At that time one of our Western friends was threatened with a dark cold cell if he did not give the correct answers. He was threatened with assault if he did not cooperate. But he refused and demanded to talk to U.S. Embassy officials.”
“For the whole night, we were taken from one police station to another, and then the next morning we were at a police station in Shigatse. So yesterday, the whole day, we were detained in Shigatse and again they carried out interrogations. Then later we were placed in a guest house in Shigatse. When we were about to sleep, again we were woken up in the middle of night and interrogated again.”
“I don't know the real reasons for our release. We were just released,” Tenzin Dorje said. “Later we learned that there was pressure from several countries, and there were many contacts with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.”
“We couldn’t be held for more than 48 hours and had to be either released or charged with some crime to start the legal process,” he said. “We were detained on April 25 a little after 9 a.m. and then [released] today, April 27, at 9 a.m. …We were put in a vehicle around 8 a.m. and rushed—there were about eight or nine vehicles with about 40 police who escorted us to the Drum border post.”
“Starting from our initial detention, they told us the same thing. They said we violated Chinese laws and would be punished for this violation. The main violation, according to them, was writing about independence for Tibet on our banner. They said this had grossly damaged the security of China.”
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.
Original reporting in Tibetan by Dolkar. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.