China Says 6 Americans Detained Over Protest Could Be Held 10 Days

Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 22, 2008; Page A14

BEIJING, Aug. 21 -- Six Americans detained by police this week could be held for 10 days, according to Chinese authorities, who appear to be intensifying their efforts to shut down any public demonstrations during the final days of the Olympic Games.

Since the Games began, no foreigners are known to have been detained for more than a few hours. Most of the approximately 40 non-Chinese involved in a handful of unauthorized, small-scale demonstrations have been deported.

A short statement faxed Thursday by Beijing police to foreign news agencies said the six foreigners were apprehended for "upsetting public order" and would be subject to the 10-day detention. It identified one of the six, detained Tuesday, as "Thomas."

A person answering the telephone at the Beijing Public Security Bureau confirmed that such a detention order existed but would not provide details.

Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said she believes those facing detention are five video bloggers and one high-tech artist.

"For the Chinese authorities to sentence them at all shows the government's paranoia and intolerance of even the most peaceful challenges to its control," Tethong said.

The five video bloggers had posted images online from the group's demonstrations in Beijing. Tethong identified them as Brian Conley, Jeffrey Rae, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss and Tom Grant. The artist is James Powderly, who was preparing to use a laser to project a pro-Tibet message onto a Beijing building when he was taken away by police Tuesday.

The U.S. Embassy would not comment on specific cases, but a spokeswoman said officials there were seeking further information on reports of the foreigners' detentions. The embassy also issued a statement encouraging China "to demonstrate respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion."

Chinese Olympic officials announced last month that Beijing would set up zones where people could protest during the Games, as long as they had received permission. None of the 77 applications submitted was approved, however, and several other would-be protesters were stopped from even applying. Two elderly Chinese women who applied were threatened by police with a year of "reeducation through labor."

In a separate protest case, police on Thursday detained eight Chinese, including a 14-year-old girl, as the group's members gathered to press their case in front of the compound that houses the offices and residences of China's top leaders.

Hong Kong businessman Wang Wenjin said he and seven others were seeking a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping. Police had twice denied Wang's applications for a permit to protest against local officials in a dispute over a court-ordered settlement.

"We didn't protest this afternoon," Wang said in a telephone interview while in detention. "We were just trying to meet Wen Jiabao."

Lu Yangyi, 14, said she was part of the group because "Wen once said that people can turn to him if they are having problems."

Her mother, Lu Weiting, said in a phone interview that she had traveled to Beijing in March to protest what she called the unfair compensation she received from the Shanghai government when a drinks factory she had invested in was sold. Police stopped the elder Lu and sent her back to Hong Kong. She tried to stop her daughter from traveling in her place but said the girl had written a letter to Wen and wanted to deliver it in person.

"When I read it, I couldn't believe it was her who wrote the letter," the mother said. "I decided she was already grown up. . . . Although I cannot say I feel optimistic about the future, if no one struggles for the right to speak out, our next generation will continue to eat bitterness."

Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company