Tibetans Demand IOC Cancel Tibet Leg of Torch Relay and Pressure China for Immediate Media Access to TibetWatch the protest video here
Athens, June 6 – Eight Pro-Tibet activists were arrested today following a second day of protest, outside the Athens hotel where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been meeting. Included in the arrest were the four young Tibetan women from the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe who staged a 'die-in' yesterday outside the hotel. The dramatic action symbolized the death of Tibetans, which Tibet campaigners fear is likely if China is allowed to parade the Olympic torch through Tibetan areas. An additional four activists were also arrested after the group unfurled Tibetan flags and banners reading "IOC: No Torch In Tibet!" and "Open Tibet To Media!."
The five Swiss Tibetans arrested, all with the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, are Nyima Jangdroen, 25, Jamyang Dolma, 26, Tenzing Kelsang, 28, and Norzin Dolkar, 30, and Tenzin Yeshi, 24. Two Americans, Han Shan, 35, and Kate Nikeefe, 39, were also arrested along with Tibetan Canadian, Lhadon Tethong, 32. The eight were arrested by Greek police and taken to a nearby police station. Tibetans and supporters are in Athens this week to demand the IOC cancel the Tibet leg of the torch relay and pressure China to uphold its Olympic commitment to media freedom and allow immediate media access to Tibet.
"An internal memo shows that even the IOC recognizes the likelihood of bloodshed if the torch goes through Tibet," said Tenzin Yeshi, spokeswoman for the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe. "IOC leaders must do the right thing now and cancel the torch relay through Tibet."
In addition to calling for cancellation of the torch relay through Tibet, the activists called for the IOC to press China to uphold its pledge of media freedom made during its bid for the 2008 Games. Tibet groups are joined by other NGOs including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists in calling for immediate media access to Tibetan areas, which remain closed to reporters.
"In the unfortunate case that the IOC irresponsibly allows China to parade the Olympic torch through Tibetan areas under clampdown, the IOC must take immediate measures to ensure that international media be allowed access to Tibet before the torch enters," said Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet and on of those arrested. "That means now."
Yesterday morning, Ms. Tethong tried to meet Olympic Chief Jacques Rogge inside the hotel where the Executive Board meeting is taking place. Upon approaching Rogge and asking to speak with him as he entered the meeting, he refused before security intervened. Tibetans and supporters have repeatedly requested a meeting with Rogge and the IOC.
China's Governor in Tibet has promised that Tibetans will be "treated harshly and with no leniency" for protesting during the torch relay. Tibetan exiles and campaigners have heard from sources inside Tibet that Tibetans are opposed to China taking the torch through their lands and are determined to protest. A leaked internal IOC memo acknowledges the likelihood of unrest and suggests IOC staff and leadership express "deepest sympathies or condolences to anyone that was injured or killed, and their families." The IOC has ultimate authority over the Olympic torch relay route.
"Why have IOC leaders prepared a public relations strategy to respond to a tragedy that is still in their power to prevent?" asked Norzin Dolkar, one of the woman involved in the dramatic 'die-in'. "The IOC has a choice between helping the Chinese government stage a successful propaganda exercise which will likely lead to further suffering, or defending the Olympic ideals of building a peaceful and better world."
In addition to raising concerns that Chinese authorities are escalating repression to ensure a protest-free torch relay, Tibet activists have pointed out that it's highly inappropriate to allow the Olympic torch to go through areas facing a severe clampdown, including a large military presence, house-to-house searches, arbitrary detentions and arrests, beatings, disappearances and a climate of fear and intimidation. Since Beijing was awarded the Games in 2001, Tibetans and their supporters worldwide have vigorously appealed to the IOC not to allow the Chinese government to use the 2008 Olympics in its attempts to legitimize its rule in Tibet.
Referring to the young Tibetan nun whose photo was carried by the Tibetan women during the protest, President of Tibetan Youth Association in Europe Tendon Dahortsang said, "It is unconscionable to think that while Sangye Lhamo and others are missing, detained, and likely being tortured, the IOC will allow the Olympic torch to be paraded through Tibet." Lhamo is among more than 80 nuns have been detained since the earthquake of May 12 in various incidents of protest in Kardze, an area of Eastern Tibet now known as Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and administered under China's Sichuan Province.
At a press conference in Athens on Tuesday, Lhadon Tethong said, "As the IOC gives no indication that they will respond to the global appeals for keeping the torch out of Tibet, providing for media access to Tibetan areas is a life-and-death matter."
Ms. Tethong was arrested and deported from Beijing last August after a week of reporting independently on her blog just days before the one-year countdown to the Games. While there, she made multiple attempts to meet with Rogge and was finally granted a brief meeting with a junior staffer. SFT's Deputy Director Tenzin Dorjee spoke with Rogge in Olympia on the eve of the torch lighting ceremony in March, asking him for a formal meeting with Tibetans. Mr. Dorjee was arrested by Greek police the following day.
Pema Dolkar, Tibetan Youth Association in Europe: +30 69 83 00 76 78