Agam's Gecko
Monday, April 30, 2007
Free Tibet at Everest
Tenzin Dorje and Mac Sutherlin hold a banner at Everest Base Camp, April 25, 2007 (Photo: Shannon Service/SFT)

ive activists from the Students for a Free Tibet were taken into Chinese custody last Wednesday, after unfurling a banner at Everest Base Camp, near the Tibet - Nepal border -- and not far from where Chinese soldiers fired upon a group of escaping Tibetan refugees at Nangpa La Pass in September, killing a young Buddhist nun and wounding others.

The action took place one day before China announced the final route for the Olympic torch relay, which will usher in the 2008 Games. Chinese Olympic planners are determined to see the torch carried to the top of Mount Everest, in a boastful claim of sovereignty over Tibet. The protest also took place on the 18th birthday of the Panchen Lama, who has been held incommunicado by the communist state for 12 years.

The protest was carried out in front of a team of Chinese climbers who were at Everest to test the feasibility of taking the flame to the summit, and lasted about 30 minutes before the participants were apprehended by Chinese police. The group of five (one was arrested later in a nearby town) included Tenzin Dorje, a Tibetan-American. He is the first known Tibetan exile to have carried out civil disobedience inside Tibet.

The group's offending banner adopts the Chinese Olympic slogan -- "One World, One Dream" -- with the addition of "Free Tibet 2008," and included both Tibetan and Chinese script. They also brought along their own torch -- the Tibetan Freedom Torch -- which was lit during the protest, while Tenzin sang the Tibetan National Anthem.

The proceedings were captured by videographer Shannon Service, sending her images wirelessly to a laptop with satellite link, allowing fellow SFT activists to download the stream live. (It's on YouTube, but of course YouTube is still blocked for me in Thailand) One of those initially arrested was contacted by cell phone soon afterwards, and said they were being held in a building at the base camp, and that they were being treated well. Shortly after this contact, the cell phone was disabled.

Between that time and the group's expulsion at the Nepal border on Friday morning, they were deprived of sleep, food and water for many hours.
"The entire thing was fairly traumatic ... not sleeping for over 30 hours, being denied food and water for over 14, basically being psychologically terrorized," Service said Saturday in Kathmandu.
After a 12 hour session of separate interrogations at the base camp, they were taken to a different police station and interrogated again, then moved to another police station for more. This was repeated all through the first night, until they arrived in Shigatse the next morning.
During the interrogation, Service said a Chinese guard threatened her, saying: "If you don't tell the truth, you will sleep in this room and harm will come to you."

"I asked her if she threatened me; she nodded yes," Service said. "I became very afraid for my own safety and the safety of my friends."
Shigatse is the site of Tashilunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. In a police station there, the group was subjected to a full day of the same treatment.
Another member of the group, Shannon Service, said she was told that she had to sleep on a concrete floor in a freezing cold room. One guard pointed fingers in the shape of a gun to her head.

"These things made me afraid for my own physical safety and the safety of my friends," Service said.
Tenzin Dorje spoke to Radio Free Asia's Tibetan service:
“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?”
In other words, "Who were the Tibetans who helped you split the motherland? We want to find them so we can treat them the way we dare not treat you."
"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.”
The repetitive interrogations continued all day in Shigatse. When they were about to sleep, they were woken again for more sessions through the night. On Friday morning they were taken by police convoy to the Drum border post on the Tibet-Nepal border, and released.

Meanwhile, today a report was released by Amnesty International, showing that China has failed to fulfill its promise -- made back in 2001 -- to improve its human rights record in return for being awarded the 2008 Games. Much was made at that time of the potential benefits of these wonderful games, in spurring much needed democratic and human rights reforms within the communist, one-party state. It hasn't happened.
The 2008 Olympic Games have become a catalyst for more repression in China, not less, according to an Amnesty International report released today and aimed at pressuring the Beijing government a year before the start of the world's premier sporting event.
The only reform that has been noted, is a new review of all death penalty cases by the Supreme Court. China executes more people each year than all other countries combined. Many of these people have their organs removed for profitable resale immediately after their execution.

The Darfur crisis -- after years of the frustrating inaction at the UN and in African capitals -- is finally getting wider public interest in the developed countries, and that issue is affecting China's image as well. Even Steven Spielberg is getting drawn in with the lost faces, embarrassed that some of his Hollywood comrades think of him as the "Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games." He is an "artistic advisor" to the Games of the CCP.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, in deriding any opposition to Beijing's 'hostmanship' (I made that up), promised that China would deliver Games with "unique characteristics." I'll tell him one thing: These Games are already carrying unique characteristics, by the very nature of the host state.
Chinese authorities have been using the Olympics to round up those they consider potential troublemakers, including human rights defenders, housing activists, lawyers and people attempting to report on human rights violations, the Amnesty report said.
The IOC isn't fulfilling its promises either, according to AI:
Amnesty also took the International Olympic Committee to task for not living up to its stated commitment to act if it did not see progress on security, logistics or human rights.

Hein Verbruggen, chief of the IOC's coordination commission for the Beijing Games, sidestepped questions last week about calls for a boycott of the Olympics. "We are not in a position that we can give instructions to governments as to how they ought to behave," he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
That's exactly what IOC officials said in Beijing, during the two days of captivity, basic needs deprivation, threats of violence etc. inflicted on the five Americans last week in Tibet. Nobody could have known those conditions at the time, of course. But they do now, or they should. Since the IOC has a "stated commitment to act if it did not see progress...", it has a duty in case of regress to at least say something. And at least, maybe, consider an action, of some sort?


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