Foreign Activists Manage to Pierce China's Broad Security Apparatus

CEREMONIAL SPECTACLE: Bus passengers take in the Olympic torch during its three-day parade through Beijing. The months-long relay ends tomorrow with the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame.
CEREMONIAL SPECTACLE: Bus passengers take in the Olympic torch during its three-day parade through Beijing. The months-long relay ends tomorrow with the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame. (China Photos Via Getty Images)

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By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 7, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 6 -- China's intense efforts to block any protest that would mar the Olympic Games were challenged Wednesday by foreign activists equally bent on diverting attention to issues as varied as Tibetan independence, the crisis in Darfur and religious freedom.

Two American and two British protesters slipped through a smothering Olympic security net, climbed a pair of lampposts and unfurled banners demanding freedom for Tibet near the new stadium where the Beijing Games are to open Friday night. In Tiananmen Square, three American Christian activists spoke out against China's rights record and protested its population control policies.

In Bangkok, President Bush planned to speak directly to the issue of human rights in China on Thursday night, according to a draft copy of a speech he was to deliver hours before heading to the Chinese capital for the opening ceremony. "America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists," the draft read.

Meanwhile, a day after Beijing revoked a visa for Darfur activist and former Olympian Joey Cheek, the U.S. Olympic team selected a Sudanese refugee to be the American delegation's flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies, a move that will further highlight China's role in the war-scarred region.

The developments Wednesday, particularly the protests by foreigners, highlighted the difficulties facing China's Communist Party rulers as they try to show television viewers in China and the world a prosperous, harmonious country during the celebrations, even at the cost of heavy-handed security restrictions.

The many Chinese who might be tempted to protest during the Games -- including human rights advocates, pro-democracy agitators or farmers disgruntled over land confiscations -- have been largely cowed into silence by a security crackdown that has left thousands in detention, under house arrest or banned from travel to Beijing. But foreigners, under consular protection and running much less risk of imprisonment, have pushed forward with plans to take advantage of China's moment in the sun despite a tightening of visa requirements.

"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," Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement.

Many activists have tried and failed to get into China for the Games.

Actress Mia Farrow, a prominent Darfur activist, announced that she would hold a news conference on the region on Thursday from Chad, which neighbors Sudan in Central Africa, because she was denied a visa to China, according to the advocacy group Dream for Darfur. Yang Jianli, a prominent Chinese dissident and senior fellow at Harvard, tried to travel to the mainland but was detained Wednesday while in Hong Kong.

Attempts by activists from the Indian-based Tibetan Youth Congress to march into China to protest the Olympics were on Sunday thwarted for a third time when 56 Tibetan exiles were detained 15 miles from the border. Hundreds of Tibet activists, meanwhile, are staging their own protests in India, where 100,000 Tibetans live and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, leads a government in exile.

Six Tibetans began a hunger strike in New Delhi on July 28, saying they wanted China to release Tibetan political prisoners and improve human rights conditions, and for nations to withdraw their athletes from the Olympic Games. Late Tuesday, after the condition of one of the fasters deteriorated, the police and government doctors forcibly carried the hunger strikers in their bedsheets to a hospital. A fresh batch of six Tibetans showed up at the site Wednesday morning to begin another round of a hunger strike.

"We know that hunger strike is not allowed by Buddhism, and we do not have the Dalai Lama's blessings," said Nawang Tenzin, a maroon-robed monk sitting on the street. "But Buddhism will be finished if we don't get our nation. This method is better than fighting with bullets and bombs."


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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