[12 August 2008]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
BEIJING - Police in Beijing dragged away and roughed up a British television journalist Wednesday as he observed a group of foreigners holding a demonstration for Tibet less than half a mile from the Olympic Green.
Witnesses said the journalist, John Ray of Britain’s Independent Television News, was wrestled to the ground by police, dragged along and shoved into a police van.
Ray was covering a demonstration by Students for a Free Tibet who chained themselves together at the entrance to a park for China’s ethnic minority groups or unfurled banners nearby. Security agents swooped in rapidly to arrest the demonstrators, who have made near daily protests over the past week in spite of a intense security blanket over the capital.
The police manhandling of Ray was the most recent breach by China of its pledge to provide complete media freedoms during the Olympic Games. China has already apologized twice in the past three weeks for incidents in which police gave rough treatment to Japanese and Hong Kong journalists.
A spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, Giselle Davies, said it was looking into whether Ray was mistreated and added: “The IOC’s position is clear: The media must be free to report on the Olympic Games.”
Ray told a local journalists’ group, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, that police accused him of trying to unfurl an outlawed Tibetan flag, which he denied, saying he was reporting on the demonstration. Police released him after half an hour. Ray told colleagues that police had stamped on his hands during the initial detention and removed his shoes.
The club’s president, Jonathan Watts, said the group was “appalled at the treatment of John Ray” and called on the authorities “to return his equipment, to apologize and to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing.”
The incident occurred at the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park about half a mile from the national stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, that is the centerpiece of the Olympic Green.
Six Americans, an Israeli-American and a Japanese-Tibetan woman took part in the protest, with some of them chaining themselves to bicycles and blocking entry to the park, the group said in a statement.
Beijing has set up some 300,000 security video cameras around the city, and has deployed more than 100,000 anti-terrorism security agents for the Olympics. Another 400,000 civilian volunteers are also helping provide tourist services and maintain order.
Starting on Aug. 6, when several members of Students for a Free Tibet scaled a light pole near the Bird’s Nest to hang a banner, the group, which advocates independence for Tibet, has defied security nearly every day for some kind of illegal protest. In response, Chinese police have kept the incidents low key, arresting the protesters and quickly deporting them.
The group’s executive director, Lhadon Tethong, a Canadian citizen, said in a telephone interview that 36 of its members have been detained and deported following five different demonstrations, including one Aug. 10 at the south entrance to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.
She said the group plans more demonstrations during the Summer Games.
“Our folks are there in different groups and different teams,” she said. “There certainly are more people there who are going to speak out peacefully in non-violent ways for the Tibetan people.”
In a separate case, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said a Chinese activist who traveled from Fujian province to Beijing has disappeared after seeking to use one of three protest zones designated by authorities in city parks during the Olympics.
Witnesses saw people from the Deshengmenwai police station whisk Ji Sizun, 58, out of the building and into a car when he went there Aug. 11 to check on his application to police to protest against corruption in his home province, the group said.
“The protest application process clearly isn’t about giving people greater freedom of expression, but making it easier for the police to suppress it,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.