Four members of the activist group, Students for a Free Tibet, have staged a lamppost protest in Beijing, unfurling a banner that read, ‘One World, One Dream – Free Tibet’, as the Olympic torch relay entered its final stage in the host city on Wednesday 6 August. All four – two British and two American nationals, holding tourist visas – have been arrested and are currently in police custody. In their interviews with the BBC, parents of the two British protesters spoke of their pride and explained that they were otherwise not unduly concerned about their children’s safety. They added that following the arrests the British students had made direct contact with their respective families, confirming that they had been treated well in custody. It is believed that they will now be entered into the deportation process within the coming days, whilst human rights campaign groups, including Students for a Free Tibet, have claimed further protests will follow in the weeks ahead.
Following the fiascos in London, Paris and San Francisco, as the torch arrived in Hong Kong, it was said at the time that Hong Kong would be the only place in China where protests would be expected. Well now, two days before the Opening Ceremony, a protest was successfully pulled off at the heart of Beijing – if there is such a thing as a ‘test case’ in how Olympic protests are to be handled in the host city at these Games, then how this case pans out will be significant.
Reports so far suggest that things are moving in the right direction. The authorities in Beijing have set out guidelines and designated areas within the city outside the venues, where protests could be held. In this first case, the protesters clearly stepped ‘outside the line’, were duly arrested, and are expected to be deported. Whether the provisions on protests are adequate, fair or not, is a matter of opinion and can be subject to debate. However, as the protesters entered China through immigration, whatever reservations they might have had – to put it mildly – with China’s policies, laws, rules and regulations, they had in effect made a declaration that they would abide by them on their visits. (Otherwise they would not have been permitted entry legally, and they did come to the country through the proper, official channels.) Subsequently, they made the decision obviously to stage a high-profile protest beyond what was permissible under the regulations in force; therefore, they deserved to be treated for a material breach of the conditions of their leave to remain.
In the end, the protesters made their point, in a way which they believed was best, did their bit for the cause and values that they evidently upheld with the greatest vigour and commitment (not less making mum and dad really proud in the process); the authorities enforced their rules that had been set out in advance, in a way that is perfectly decisive, largely peaceful and generally respectable to all (or to most, if not to all). Surely, everybody’s winner then?