Two days ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, China seems to have reneged on its pledge to honor freedom of expression after the arrest of demonstrators and the unexplained revocation of visas.
Protests have been stymied and arrests made ahead of the Games opening ceremony
Four demonstrators were arrested by Chinese authorities in Beijing on Wednesday, Aug. 6, after scaling 120-foot (36.6-meter) light posts near the center of the Olympic park and displaying banners calling for a Tibet free from Chinese rule.
The two American and two Britons displayed Tibetan flags and banners declaring "One World, One Dream: Free Tibet" and "Tibet will be free," the group Students for a Free Tibet said in an email, Reuters news agency reported. One of the banners also said "Free Tibet" in Chinese.
According to police, the group gathered at the Beichen Bridge near the central stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, which will host to Friday's opening ceremony. Chinese officials have enforced a strict ban on any public support for the Tibetan independence movement.
Beijing Games spokesman Sun Weide told reporters that China has rules on "assemblies" and expects foreigners to respect them.
Protests stopped quickly
Police quickly removed the protestors' banner from public view
Within 10 minutes of the banners' unfurling, firemen arrived in several fire trucks with extended ladders and removed the banners from the light posts, ABC News reported.
The two men, members of the group Students for a Free Tibet, then reportedly climbed down peacefully and police checked their identification.
One of the protesters, who identified himself to ABC News as Ian Thom, 24, from Edinburgh, Scotland, said he entered China with a group from Britain on a valid tourist visa.
"I'll probably get detained by the police and then ejected out of the country, but I believe it's not anywhere near the risk or the fear that Tibetans are living with under the occupation of the Chinese government," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua, China's state-controlled news agency.
Zhang Heping, director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies Department of the Beijing Games' organizing committee, labeled the protest an infringement upon the Olympic charter and spirit of the games.
However, the stymieing of freedom of speech and reversal of China's pledge to allow free expression when it originally bid on the games may prove to be a point of embarrassment for the government.
Security has been ramped up with soldiers on guard against protests and disturbances
The arrests coincided with the unexplained revocation of a travel visa to China for Winter Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek.
The American speed skater was a founder of Team Darfur, a group of athletes, including 72 current Olympians, whose aim is to draw attention to China's support of Sudan and the human rights abuses and humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. China is a major buyer of oil pumped in Sudan.
"I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games," he said as reported by news agency DPA. "The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible.
"However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur," Cheek added
He told The Washington Post that Team Darfur's co-founder, former university water polo player Brad Greiner, had also had his visa revoked Tuesday.