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China Deports 28 Members of Students for a Free Tibet for Staging Protests in Beijing

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We speak to John Hocevar, founder of Students for a Free Tibet, and the citizen journalist Noel Hidalgo, aka noneck, both of whom were just deported by China. Hidalgo used his cell phone to film most of the footage of the protests shown across the world. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryAug 08, 2008Summer Olympic Games Open in Beijing, Pro-Tibet Protester Deported to US
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Olympics in China. As sports fans around the world keep their eyes on the [medal] tally in Beijing, another numerical feat continues to grow almost daily. Members of the group Students for a Free Tibet say twenty-eight of their activists have now been deported or detained since the Games opened last week.

The students have taken part in several protests. Last Wednesday, a Free Tibet banner was briefly draped near the Olympic Stadium. Two days later, three were arrested for waving the Tibetan flag and recreating the Black Power salute just before the opening ceremonies. On Saturday, protesters were arrested both at the Olympic Stadium and at Tiananmen Square, where five people draped themselves in Tibetan flags and held a symbolic die-in. On Sunday, five were arrested after unfurling a banner reading “Tibetans are dying for freedom.”

I’m joined now by two activists who have just returned to the United States after being deported from China. John Hocevar is founder of Students for a Free Tibet, and Noel Hidalgo is an activist and self-described “citizen journalist.” He goes by the nickname “noneck.” He used his cell phone to film most of the footage of the protests shown across the world. John Hocevar and Noel Hidalgo join us here in the firehouse studio.

John, can you talk about what you were involved in in China, how you got there and what protests you were part of?

JOHN HOCEVAR: Sure. Well, we arrived just on a normal tourist visa. We were there because China has been trying to use the Olympics to legitimize the occupation of Tibet and to whitewash the human rights record, and we felt it was important to do what we could to make sure that the truth got out.

AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do?

JOHN HOCEVAR: Well, we’ve been organizing protests almost every day over the past week in Beijing, starting with the banner hang that you saw right in front of the famous Bird’s Nest, National Stadium.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what this banner hang was.

JOHN HOCEVAR: Well, so we had people climb these two very large polls right across from the Bird’s Nest, and they read in English and Chinese, “Free Tibet, Tibet will be free,” and then, sort of riffing off the motto a little bit, “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet.”

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened?

JOHN HOCEVAR: Well, they were able to stay up for a little while, because once they get off the ground, they can’t be grabbed quite so easily. Finally, the trucks came, and the activists came down of their own accord and were immediately deported. And that’s been the case with every demonstration over the past week. As soon as law enforcement was able to get to people, they were taken out pretty quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: What other protests were you involved with?

JOHN HOCEVAR: A couple days later, the — on Saturday, in Tiananmen Square, this one, for me, was one of the most powerful that I’ve been a part of. There was a die-in right in the heart of Tiananmen Square, you know, one of the world’s most powerful symbols of nonviolent resistance. And there was a very large crowd of Chinese bystanders standing around watching. And outside of that, actually, there were uniformed police that were — had — for whatever reason, were not intervening. So it went on for close to fifteen minutes before people were escorted out of the square and, again, deported.

AMY GOODMAN: Noneck, can you talk about your citizen journalism, what you’ve been doing and what you have filmed in China?

NOEL HIDALGO: Sure. For the past year, I’ve traveled around the world just using the tools at my disposal, like this cell phone. And in China, I used this software called QIK, Q-I-K, that allowed me to stream live onto the internet and show these protests as they were happening in real time to the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about some that you filmed and that others filmed, got to see.

NOEL HIDALGO: Sure. The footage that you just saw of the banner hang was filmed by many different people, Chinese and Western journalists that were there, as well as other tourists that happened to be in the area. And the amazing part is that it got to the point that any Westerner would be actually yelled and screamed at and assaulted for filming any one of these protests, whereas any Chinese individual, it was OK for them to go ahead and film.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play some of a protest that was captured on a cell phone. I think we can roughly hear some of this protest. Let’s roll the tape.

    PROTESTER: Right now, over 1,000 Tibetans are in jail in Tibet, preemptively ahead of the Olympics. So we’ve come here to speak out about that. We’ve also come here to shine the Olympic light on the occupation of Tibet and ongoing human rights abuses by the Chinese government in Tibet. With the world’s attention on China, we ask that you please, please free Tibet, that the time is now for a free Tibet, that with the world’s attention on China, that we speak out. And as people of conscience, we’ve traveled here to do so today.

AMY GOODMAN: Noneck, can you tell us about this? It was captured on a cell phone?

NOEL HIDALGO: Yeah, it was streamed live to the internet. And just using this particular phone, this Nokia, allowed me to broadcast right to the internet. And over 30,000 people have seen this particular video. And what’s most interesting about this particular protest is that it just not only involved Students for a Free Tibet, the particular die-in, but I was also able to capture an undercover security officer assaulting a CBC reporter who had been credentialed. His passport was pickpocketed right as the protesters were being taken in to be detained. They were assaulted — this photographer was assaulted, and his passport pickpocketed. Eventually, he did get his passport back, but it showed, the highlight, that the police are — have been brutal against the fact that Westerners documenting these particular things are refusing to allow for an open, free media.

AMY GOODMAN: And when did the authorities catch you, deport you? Or did they stop you each time, at each protest?

NOEL HIDALGO: I was not stopped. I was actually — I was harassed by local Chinese every single time. I was told that I was a demon, I was a devil, for showing China in this particular light, because they saw me capturing this footage. On the third protest, where the students unfurled their banner at the ticket office where John and I were both detained, I just happened to have a high-definition consumer camera, and I was thrown up against the wall, my arm was twisted behind my back, and I was subsequently detained for being a Westerner who was capturing this footage. I wanted to show the rest of the world what exactly was going on in China.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final time detained before you were deported, where were you held? Did you get to speak to those who were holding you, John?

JOHN HOCEVAR: They basically commandeered the first available room, so they took over a ticket office and detained us there, and then they put us in a police van and brought us to the airport. And we were interrogated a bit in each of those places.

If I could, I’d like to bring it back to why we were there, really, and what this was all about. And, you know, for me, as a founder of Students for a Free Tibet, walking back into the office several — you know, over a decade later, seeing that the whole office was being taken over — had been taken over by young Tibetans, the guy who met us at the airport when we arrived from being deported, his sister was one of the two women in Amdo who were shot this week. I don’t think many people realize how much Tibetans are really running this organization now. And how —-

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to his sister?

JOHN HOCEVAR: Well, it’s an awful story. They’re from Amdo province in Napo, which is really just a couple hundred kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake in Sichuan province. And it’s a heavily militarized area now. The number of troops there have gone from 2,000 to 10,000 over the past few months. They’re carrying out military exercises on the grasslands. These are nomadic areas where they’re basically ordering all the Tibetans to come out and watch while they respond to mock protests with Tibetan flags. So, these two women that were shot, it sounds like they were just soldiers taking potshots driving by in a car, and these two women were hit -— and not killed, fortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: They were not in Tibet?

JOHN HOCEVAR: They’re in Tibet, that’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: They were in Tibet, and they were shot.

JOHN HOCEVAR: That’s right, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Your deportation, noneck, what happened?

NOEL HIDALGO: Well, you know, once I was physically accosted, I was thrown into the same room that five other protesters were in, and pretty much I kept on saying, “I’m just a tourist. I’m here just to show and to see the Games,” and was taken to the hotel and subsequently deported.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel the US should have participated in the Olympics, John?

JOHN HOCEVAR: I wouldn’t have — we weren’t calling for a boycott of the Games, but we certainly didn’t feel that it was appropriate for President Bush to go and attend the opening ceremonies and smile and clap without holding the Chinese government accountable for their human rights record and to press them for a resolution on Tibet.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, John Hocevar, founder of Students for a Free Tibet, and Noel Hidalgo, citizen journalist from here in New York, both deported for their pro-Tibet activities in China.

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Next story from this daily show

Chinese American Writer & Activist Helen Zia on the Olympic Games, the Role of Protest and President Bush’s Visit to Beijing

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