Group delighted with media attention gained by risky demonstration
By Judith Lavoie
Canadian activists Sam Price (C) Melanie Raoul (L) and Kate Woznow pose with a Tibetan flag after arriving in Vancouver, British Columbia August 9, 2007. The three were part of several protestors arrested and later released by Chinese authorities after they unfurled a banner on the Great Wall protesting China's occupation of Tibet. REUTERS/Andy Clark (CANADA)
August 10 - Chinese police bombarded foreign protesters with questions, then told them the Canadian Embassy didn't want to see them after they were taken into custody this week, says one of the protesters.
Sam Price, 32, who grew up on Vancouver Island and now lives in Vancouver, was one of six protesters from Canada, the U.K. and U.S. arrested this week after rappelling down the Great Wall of China and unfurling a banner saying "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet."
Another two, including Lhadon Tethong, who was born and raised in Victoria and is now executive director of New York-based Students for a Free Tibet, were arrested in Beijing, where Tethong was writing a blog about the Chinese "propaganda campaign" leading up to the Beijing Olympic Games, which start next August.
Price, interviewed shortly after landing in Vancouver yesterday afternoon, said the protesters remained on the Great Wall for two hours but decided to come down when someone tried to burn the rope holding Canadian Melanie Raoul.
"We realized we had better come down of our own accord," he said.
The group was held for about 32 hours by the Public Security Bureau -- government police -- and was first taken to an office building, then transferred to a village police station before being moved to Beijing, Price said.
"They denied us any contact with our embassy. They told us we had no rights to see anyone and then they told us the embassy didn't want to see us. The embassy did want to see us, but they lied to us," he said.
When the protesters refused to answer questions until they met with an embassy representative, the interrogators became visibly annoyed, Price said.
Sam Price is presented with traditional Tibetan kata upon arriving at Vancouver International Airport, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007. (AP PHOTO/CP, Richard Lam)
"In some ways I was worried, but I realized, as Canadians, we have distinct privileges over the Tibetans. The physical risks they take are enormous," he said.
Price, who said his first priority is getting some sleep, does not know if he will be able to return to China, but said the battle to free Tibet will continue.
"I really think if we continue, things will change. I wouldn't have risked it if I didn't think that."
Tethong flew into Toronto, where she was greeted by her family, including parents Judy and TC Tethong of Victoria.
"It feels fantastic. I will never look at the ground in exactly the same way again," she said.
Tethong said the protesters accomplished their aim of putting Tibet on centre stage, but admits to being fearful as she was "intensely followed" around Beijing.
"I tried to put it in perspective, but the night before we were taken, I didn't put on my pyjamas because I was so convinced they were coming," she said. "We knew we were going there causing trouble, but we had a job to do."
Police told her China was no different from Canada, and that going to Canada to talk about Quebec separation would be illegal.
Tethong said she assured police anyone could discuss politics in Canada, provided they didn't threaten violence.
Tethong also asked to see someone from the embassy, but was told it was not necessary because she had not been arrested.
Kathy Nikeefe, spokeswoman for Students for a Free Tibet, said the group is thrilled with media coverage that has turned the spotlight on China's human-rights record in Tibet.
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were self-ruled for most of that period. Chinese communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951, and Beijing continues to rule the Himalayan region with a heavy hand.
Students for a Free Tibet has 650 chapters in 35 countries around the world.