U.S. Embassy requests immediate release of foreign protesters

Updated: August 24, 2008, 2:54 PM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- The U.S. Embassy pressed China to immediately free foreign activists jailed for protesting at the Olympics and criticized Beijing on Sunday for failing to use the Games to show "greater tolerance and openness."

The New York-based group Students for a Free Tibet said eight Americans were deported during the Olympics' Closing Ceremony on Sunday, but there was no immediate confirmation from U.S. or Chinese officials.

The blunt U.S. criticism came just hours before the end of the Games, which have largely followed the plan of China's leaders for a smooth-running event that would increase the country's international prestige.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the Games had helped open up China, though he expressed surprise that no permission had been granted for any protests to be held. He said the Games' legacy is "ultimately, up to the Chinese people."

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

-- U.S. Embassy

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 have sought to raise China's tough rule in Tibet, its rights record and other issues during the Beijing Games.

Most 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 some activists caught in the past week 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.

U.S. consular officials met with the eight detained Americans on Friday, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Sunday. They had not made any claims of maltreatment by Chinese officials, the statement said.

Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. pressed the Chinese government on Saturday to immediately release the Americans, the statement said. U.S. officials would continue to raise concerns about the detentions with senior Chinese officials, it said.

"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."

Calls to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs went unanswered Sunday, and the Public Security Bureau, which handles internal security, declined to make any immediate comment on the embassy statement.

Under pressure to address human rights and free speech concerns, China said it would allow protests during the Games in three designated areas. But none of the more than 70 applications to demonstrate was approved, and some people were arrested as they sought the permits, rights groups and relatives said.

The International Olympic Committee is not a sovereign organization. We have to respect Chinese law.

-- IOC's Jacques Rogge

"We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through," Rogge said at a news conference Sunday.

IOC officials discussed with Games organizers the case of two elderly Chinese women who were ordered to spend a year in a labor camp after applying to protest, though the women were still at home under surveillance. The IOC was told it was a matter of Chinese law.

"The International Olympic Committee is not a sovereign organization," Rogge said. "We have to respect Chinese law."

Several members of another group that sought permission to protest during the Games were detained in a room for 48 hours by Chinese authorities before being deported to Hong Kong, spokesman Xiao Yuzhen said. The group represents businessmen in Hong Kong who wanted to complain about corruption. The Public Security Bureau had no immediate comment Sunday.

Activist groups including Students for a Free Tibet staged a series of small illegal demonstrations near Olympic venues and at Beijing landmarks during the competition, unfurling banners and speaking out against alleged Chinese abuses.

The U.S. Embassy identified 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 Thursday would be released Aug. 31, it said.

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 county. 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 the news office of the county's public security bureau were not answered Sunday.

On Sunday, Chinese President Hu Jintao called the Beijing Games a success and praised the athletes and volunteers. He said the event would "enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese people and the people of all other countries," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press