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Journey to Harmony: OneWorldOneDreamFreeTibet2008 Observations and reports from Beijing on the Olympics, and the protests against the continued occupation of Tibet by Chinese government forces.

Outlawed Tibetan Flags Fly in Beijing

CHINA | Friday, 8 August 2008 | Views [2578]

Outlawed Tibetan Flags Fly in Beijing:

Just an hour before the Opening Ceremonies were to kick off at the auspicious time of 8:08pm on 08/08/08, Chinese officials used force to subdue three activists who boldly removed sweatshirts to reveal Team Tibet T-Shirts and each draped themselves in the outlawed Tibetan national flag.

Within an estimated forty seconds, officers, both uniformed and plainclothed, tackled the two Americans and one Argentine-American activist to the ground and removed the flags from their person. Quickly, but not quick enough to avoid the ever present flash of cameras, the three were arrested and removed from the scene outside the Beitucheng subway stop at the base of the New Line leading up to the famed Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium.

The action, which was orchestrated by Students for a Free Tibet, and a follow-up to the dramatic banner hanging outside the Nest during the days leading up to the Opening Ceremonies, defied the intense and tight security measures authorities had taken. Although the bold move only lasted for less than a minute, the heavy-handed and violent reaction by authorities on the scene further solidified SFT and other human rights organization's assertions that the Chinese authorities are not willing to allow any type of dissent when it comes to Tibet or other sensitive matters.

In 1968 John Carlos and Tommie Smith inspired the world with their courage and character by standing up for civil rights by simply raising a clenched fist when accepting their medals at the Olympic ceremonies in Mexico City. Forty years later, this same spirit has been honored and exercised by these Tibetan supporters whose actions give voice to those silenced for speaking out for fundamental human rights and freedoms in Tibet.

Earlier this year Tibetan monks inside Tibet marked the 49th anniversary of the failed Tibetan Uprising on March 10,1959 by demonstrating in similar fashion along the streets of Lhasa, Tibet. They were met with an even more violent reaction to the calls for a Free Tibet and fundamental human rights. When scores of monks and nuns were beaten and arrested ordinary Tibetans responded with pointed violence of their own as they set their sights on Chinese-owned businesses and property. This reaction was met with an even higher degree of physical violence from a police and military force in Lhasa. But this only spurred on more protests in other parts of Tibet, and even areas of China including Beijing. Once the news made it abroad the world was up in arms over the brutal response by Chinese forces on unarmed civilians. World wide protests and acts of solidarity similar to the ones carried out by these three activists in Beijing increased global awareness of the ongoing abuses the Chinese authorities have perpetrated on the occupied Tibetan people.

When I emerged from my subway line to transfer to the 8 Line up to the Olympic Stadium I felt completely surrounded by officers with automatic assault rifles, uniformed police with attack dogs, as well as plain clothed officers who were giving away their affiliation with their cold and hard scanning stares of the crowds. It was a very intense scene, and all those who were exiting the trains were ushered through the type of security checks normally found in airports. While the level of control and security was quite overwhelming I simply moved with the crowd and exited the station. Once I reached street level the limit-line tape blocked off desolate streets lined with soldiers and more uniformed officers.

There were huge crowds of foreigners who were exiting to make their way through even more screening to enter the Olympic Park, and for a time I simply blended in with the lot, but eventually I broke away from them and moved back towards the area where the activists eventually made their stand.

It didn't take very long for the bulk of the officers on the scene to react to their flags. As they moved around and tried to keep the flags out as long as possible, the crowds of Chinese who lined the streets at the limit-line tape screamed at the activists but none acted out. Not that they needed to as they got to live vicariously through the rough actions of the officers who swiftly tackled the activists to the ground.

Within as much time as it took them to take off their shirts and wrap themselves in the flags the officers had them cuffed and taken off the scene. It was extremely eerie how quickly the crowd returned to normal. A few moments later it was as if nothing had happened at all. Almost as if it were a false alarm when when you think it is about to rain. You feel the first drop, look up, wait for another with an open palm, but then nothing.

Several journalists were on the scene, but everyone was ushered away from the corner of the action. Some of the media who had taken photos were questioned and lightly harassed, however, on the whole the event was simply smothered by the level of excitement in the Chinese crowd as Beijing moved within an hour of the Opening Ceremonies.

A few plain clothed police officers seemed interested in my presence. I started moving back towards the subway entrance and decided it was time to leave. After purchasing a ticket and entering the subway to head east I felt the burning sensation of eyes in my back. I did my best to ignore it and opened up a book and boarded the next train that pulled into the station. Once I boarded the men from the street level entered the train car. I remained calm and got off at the next stop, but then quickly swung around and merged with the crowd to reenter the same car. By the time the train pulled out of the station they were no longer on the train. At the next stop I hopped off and took the west bound train that was waiting across the platform to the university district on the west side of the city without hassle.

I ended up watching the beginning of the Opening Ceremonies on a local bus that was headed to the southern part of the city. By the time the major opening sequence had concluded I had reached the front gate of Tiananmen Square. I hopped back on a tube and made my way home. Upon returning to my hotel the hostel across the way was swollen with Westerners glued to the huge projection screen broadcasting the ceremonies. Although I had made it back safely it was just the beginning of a very long and emotional evening of being surrounded by westerners who watched Han Chinese dressed in ethnic Tibetan clothes celebrate the diversity of the host nation without so much as batting an eye of suspicion or wonder. Guess all it takes to suppress awareness and morality is some glitz, fireworks, and a sixer of Tsing Tao. 

Tags: beijing, free tibet, olympics, protests, tibet

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