China Deports British Citizen

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 11, 2008

BEIJING, July 10 -- A British citizen of Tibetan descent was expelled from China this week as police clear the capital of anyone they believe might draw attention to political tensions during the Olympic Games next month.

Dechen Pemba, 30, who had lived in Beijing since September 2006 studying Mandarin and teaching English, held a work visa valid until November 2008. But on Tuesday morning, seven or eight police officers confronted her as she left her apartment. They forced her back inside, told her to pack a bag and, after searching its contents, escorted her to the airport.

Police also seized her bank account book and demanded her PIN number. They confiscated her cellphone, returning it once she had boarded the flight to London.

"Everyone living in Beijing has noticed the security crackdown, but it sends a worrying signal that they would do this to someone," Pemba said in a phone interview from London. "I think about my Tibetan friends, who don't have the protection of a British passport."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Pemba was not deported because of the Olympics, but because she was involved in "separatist activities" and had admitted breaking Chinese law. He did not specify which law.

Pemba denied the charges. "I am completely shocked at these baseless, fabricated allegations," she said.

Pemba said she enjoyed her life in Beijing, calling it a fast-paced city with a lively cultural scene. Although she had been aware for months that she was under surveillance, she felt she hadn't done anything wrong so had nothing to fear. "Being a Tibetan, they found me highly suspicious," she said.

Tibetans clashed with Chinese forces this spring across western China, in the largest protests in nearly 20 years against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region. The Beijing government has since barred most foreigners from traveling there, except under highly controlled circumstances.

Few foreigners are known to have been deported as summarily as Pemba, but hundreds have been denied entry visas and others have seen their visas canceled early, as officials scrutinize everyone coming in and out of the country before the Olympics.

Pemba once worked for a Tibetan advocacy group outside China but said she had not engaged in activism while in Beijing. She is a niece of Tsering Shakya, who lives in Canada and is the author of "The Dragon in the Land of Snows," a highly regarded history of modern Tibet.

Liu said Pemba was a key member of the Tibetan Youth Congress, an exile group that China labels a terrorist organization. Pemba said she had no association with the group, which advocates an independent Tibet but denies the terrorism allegation.

"While living in China, I did not engage in anything that can be construed as anti-China or illegal," Pemba said. "Police would not tell me what law I had broken. They said I should know what I had done."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company