U.S. diplomat criticizes China, seeks Olympic protesters' release

Updated: August 24, 2008, 1:59 AM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- Washington's top diplomat in China pressed the government to immediately free foreign activists jailed for protesting during the Olympics, and criticized Beijing on Sunday for failing to use the games to show "greater tolerance and openness."

Chinese police have sentenced at least 10 foreigners to 10 days of detention for protesting during the games, including eight Americans, a German and a British citizen. The activists were among small groups of demonstrators who unfurled banners criticizing China's rule in Tibet in the capital just before and during the games.

The protesters were quickly dragged away by security forces and, in the first week of the 17-day event, escorted out of China within days. But activists caught in the last week of the games have been kept in custody under rules that allow officials to hold them without charge for up to 14 days.

British and U.S. officials are seeking the quick release of their citizens.

Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. said consular officials met with eight detained Americans on Friday, and that they had not made any claims of maltreatment at the hands of Chinese officials.

On Saturday, Randt pressed the Chinese government to immediately release the Americans, the Embassy said in a statement. U.S. officials would continue to raise concerns about the detentions with senior Chinese officials.

"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," the statement said.

It urged China to show respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religion.

Britain's Foreign Office also issued a statement, confirming the detention of a British citizen and urging the Chinese government "to respect its commitment to freedom of expression." It also urged British citizens to respect China's laws.

China said it would allow protests during the Olympic Games in three designated areas and required protesters to apply for protest permits. But no applications to demonstrate were approved.

The Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the detained foreigners' cases.

The bureau issued a statement Thursday that said a separate group of foreigners who were arrested Tuesday were ordered to serve 10 days of detention. Police did not identify the detainees, but activist group Students for a Free Tibet said they were bloggers, artists and activists from the United States.

The Embassy named the detained U.S. activists as James Powderly, Brian Conley, Jeffrey Rae, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss and Tom Grant, a group taken into custody last Wednesday, and Jeremy Wells and John Watterberg, who were detained on Thursday.

It said Chinese authorities said the group detained Wednesday would be released Aug. 30. The pair detained on Thursday would be released Aug. 31.

Separately, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders group said AIDS activist Wang Xiaoqiao, who has been detained for nine months, has been convicted and sentenced to one year in prison in Xincai, a county in the central province of Henan. The organization accused the government of waiting until the Olympics, when the world was distracted by the games, to sentence Wang.

Phone calls to the Xincai county court and to the news office of the county's public security bureau were not answered Sunday.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press