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China Frees 8 American Protesters After Diplomatic Pressure

Wang Xiuying, 77, left, and neighbor Wu Dianyuan, 79, face a year at a reeducation labor camp after applying for a protest permit during the Olympic Games.
Wang Xiuying, 77, left, and neighbor Wu Dianyuan, 79, face a year at a reeducation labor camp after applying for a protest permit during the Olympic Games. (By Ng Han Guan -- Associated Press)
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By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 25, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 24 -- China released eight American protesters from jail and put them on a plane for Los Angeles on Sunday night as the Beijing Olympics closed in a rousing ceremony at the Bird's Nest stadium, an advocacy group said.

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Top diplomats at the U.S. and British embassies earlier in the day had pressed for the immediate release of 10 foreigners -- the eight Americans, a Briton and a German citizen of Tibetan origin. All had been sentenced to 10 days of detention after police swarmed their unauthorized pro-Tibet demonstrations last week. Forty-eight other foreign protesters detained by Chinese authorities during the Games were immediately deported.

The Briton was still being held but was expected to be deported Monday morning, a source said. The fate of the German was unclear, but he was also expected to be released.

Before Sunday, the United States had made few public statements while China rounded up and deported foreigners who participated in unauthorized demonstrations. But a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy on Sunday morning called for the early release of the Americans, saying that "we are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness." U.S. Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. met with the Americans on Friday and none complained of maltreatment, the statement said.

Britain's Foreign Office also issued a statement, calling on China to release the protesters and "respect its commitment to freedom of expression."

All of those detained had staged protests on behalf of Students for a Free Tibet.

The group's executive director, Lhadon Tethong, said: "After two days of negative publicity over its extrajudicial detention of 10 Tibet supporters, the Chinese government is seeking to suppress a story that would have cast a shadow over the closing ceremony of these Olympic Games, which includes a final propaganda push to legitimize China's rule in Tibet, with Tibetans singing and dancing along with other so-called 'ethnic minorities.' "

The Beijing Public Security Bureau had no immediate comment on the diplomats' demands or on the release of the detainees.

Police did not approve any applications for authorized protests during the Games, despite designating three "protest zones" around the city. Several Chinese citizens were detained or harassed for attempting to apply for protest permits. At least two Chinese remain missing.

Human rights advocates are concerned that, with only limited global reaction to arrests and other abuses during the Games, Chinese activists could now face even tougher sanctions for speaking out. Already, public security officials have blanketed restive Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang region of western China, where attacks believed to be the work of separatist groups killed more than 30 people earlier this month.

A Chinese AIDS activist was sentenced on Aug. 12 to one year in prison, according to advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Wang Xiaoqiao was convicted of "extortion" during the Games after having persisted in petitioning for compensation for her husband, who died from a tainted blood transfusion at a government hospital in central China's Henan province.

"As the world focused on the Olympics, the court rushed her to jail, perhaps hoping that no one would notice this travesty," said Renee Xia, the advocacy group's international coordinator.


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