by Louise Belfrage
News Editor, The WIP
Ms. Tethong, a Tibetan woman born and raised in Canada, had been working tirelessly for a decade to build a powerful youth movement for Tibetan independence. She had spoken to countless groups about the situation in Tibet, most notably to a crowd of 66,000 at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C. She had also built a large following on her blog, Beijing Wide Open.
Yesterday, August 8th, was an auspicious date, symbolically, for China – it was one year to the day before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately, a well known and extremely effective activist and frequent spokesperson for the Tibetan independence movement, Lhadon Tethong, the Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet International, was detained by the Chinese authorities on undetermined charges. She had been in China for only six days while covering the human rights situation at the one-year run-up to the Olympic Games.
By the third day of her stay, her blog had become increasingly popular, especially in Tibet, where many saw her visit to China as courageous and inspiring: she was putting her own freedom at risk for the cause of Tibet. Before being detained, Ms. Tethong had said, “The Olympics is an opportunity to push China for change, and it’s our responsibility to take the mask off the face of the Beijing regime.”
At first, the Chinese authorities had ordered only a few security officers to follow Tethong, but by the 5th day there were up to 30 plain clothes “minders” (aka plain clothes security agents) as well as vehicles following her every step.
Tethong had reported on the action that took place on the morning of August 8th at the Great Wall: the hanging of a “Free Tibet” banner by six international activists. She began her coverage of the arrests by saying, “I am at a loss for words. This morning, six amazing people of conscience risked their lives to defend the Tibetan people.” These six -- three Americans, two Canadians and one British citizen -- were detained after two hours, on charges that they threatened national security. The whereabouts of the six activists are still unknown.
Comments from her readers posted on Beijing Wide Open showed nearly unconditional support for her and for the action on the Great Wall.
One reader responded, “Thank you so much, Great Wall 6. You fill us with hope, tears and admiration for your untiring support, courage and risk with this daring action. We pray for your safety. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Another proclaimed, “Go SFT! Go Lhadon! FREE TIBET! SHAME ON IOC. NEVER GIVE UP!
TIBET WILL BE FREE!”
Tenzin Dorjee, the Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet, speaking on the phone from New York, told The WIP that on August 7th, Ms. Tethong had tried to arrange a meeting with the president of International Olympics Committee, Mr. Jacques Rogge, to speak to him about China and its human rights. Refused an opportunity to schedule a meeting with him, she then went to his hotel, and waited for him in the lobby. When he came down, she confronted him and told him that she wanted to talk to him about Tibet. However, he completely ignored her; she was pushed aside and blocked by security personnel.On August 8th, Ms. Tethong was picked up by Chinese authorities together with her colleague Paul Golding, a long-time advocate of Tibetan freedom. First they were taken to a Beijing police station for questioning, then later they were flown to Hong Kong. Fortunately, they were released there.
Mr. Dorjee says, “At the very moment that China is proclaiming Olympic ideals of peace and humanity, it has turned around and silenced Ms. Tethong for nothing more than freely expressing their views on the Beijing Olympics and Tibet. The one-year countdown exposes the blatant propaganda behind China’s efforts to promote an image of itself as a free and open society.”
Lhadon’s own comments on the situation, published on her blog, were even more blunt:
This is what the Chinese government gets for trying to sell the world a lie. They want the Olympic spotlight and they want to improve their global image without actually doing anything to change their authoritarian ways. Simply window dressing the capital at this time is not enough.
After expressing great relief about the reported release of Ms. Tethong and Mr. Golding in Hong Kong, Mr. Dorjee added he believes that Ms. Tethong will try to go back to mainland China as soon as possible. Her wish is to continue to report on Chinese human rights abuse and to fight for a free Tibet.
As one of her readers said on her blog, “Lhadon, you are amazing!!”