by Louise Belfrage
News Editor, The WIP
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.
• 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.
Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet
, gives a speech in New York City on March 10th, 2007. Photo courtesy of Students for a Free Tibet. •
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.