Canadians, all from British Columbia, were demanding China pull out of Tibet
Three Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities following a protest at the Great Wall against the Chinese presence in Tibet have been released.
The New York-based Students for a Free Tibet said at about 12 p.m. ET Wednesday that it received a call from witnesses who said the activists — Lhadon Tethong, Sam Price and Melanie Raoul — had been released in Beijing and deported. But it was unclear where they were deported to.
A spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa confirmed to CBC News that the three Canadian protesters were "dealt with according to Chinese regulations and have been expelled from China."
He gave very little information beyond that, refusing to give details as to where the Canadians were going or how they were "dealt with."
Tethong, the group's executive director and a Tibetan-Canadian born and raised in Victoria, was detained Tuesday night in Beijing.
Price and Melanie, both from Vancouver, were arrested earlier in the day after they unfurled a 42-square-metre banner reading "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008" in English and Chinese from the Great Wall. The banner adds three words — "Free Tibet 2008" — to the official slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The one-year countdown to the Games started Tuesday.
Five other members of the group — two from the U.K and three from the United States — were also arrested.
Earlier on Wednesday, before the announcement that the Canadians had been released, Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet, told CBC News that Tethong was on her cellphone with the group when Chinese security personnel came and took her away.
"Since then we haven't heard anything from her and we don't know exactly where she's being kept right now," he said.
Tethong was writing on her blog and posting videos and photos online about what the group calls China's "propaganda campaign" leading up to next year's Olympic Games.
Tracey Rees, a cousin of Tethong, said Wednesday that she had spoken with the activist about 10 days earlier when she came to Toronto to visit before her trip to China.
"Her plan was to see what she could find out and to find out whether Beijing is as wide open as it claims to be, if they really have cleaned up their human rights record as they claimed to have, and how free and open it was for her to be able to express her thoughts and views."
Dorjee said Tethong has been executive director of the organization for the past four years. He said she wasn't part of the Great Wall protest but that for the past six days, she has been travelling in Beijing, openly blogging to describe the situation in Tibet.
Before the Canadians were released, China never officially confirmed it had the three Canadians in custody.
Officials from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and the American and British embassies in Beijing said they had been unable to get any information from the Chinese.
Advocates who want Tibet freed from China say the Chinese government is using the Games to gain international acceptance.
The group also wants the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to push the case for Tibetan freedom.
The media-savvy group is using blogs and YouTube, where they have posted a video of the banner being hung from the Great Wall, to attract worldwide attention.
China invaded Tibet in 1950, and in 1999 declared it to be an "inseparable part of China." In 2004, a government policy paper said Tibet had always been part of China, and before the Chinese imposed direct rule, Tibet was "even darker and more backward than medieval Europe."
With files from the Canadian Press