Activists: Greece Arresting Unrelated Tibetans After China Olympics Protests

Protesters holding the Tibetan flag crash the flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Ancient Olympia archeological site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece on October 18, 2021. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)
Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

Tibetan activists arrested amid the handover of the Olympic torch to China in Greece – “despite not engaging in any protest” – on Tuesday said they saw other apparently Asian people in jail arrested for no clear reason, the World Uyghur Congress denounced.

Greek police arrested Tsering Gonpa and Tenzin Yangzom, two ethnic Tibetans of Swiss and American nationality, respectively, in Athens on Tuesday after attending a press conference the World Uyghur Congress participated in alongside the International Tibet Network and Students for a Free Tibet. Speakers at the event urged the world to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to cancel the event, citing the litany of human rights atrocities the Chinese Communist Party is currently committing, paramount among them genocide.

Their arrests follow the detention of several others for actively, and peacefully, protesting the IOC for allowing a rogue state to host the Olympics – as well as, reportedly, the arrests of Asian-looking individuals who did not engage in any such activity.

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the torch with the flame during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece, October 19, 2021. The flame will be transported by torch relay to Beijing, China, which will host the February 4-20, 2022 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the torch with the flame during the Olympic flame handover ceremony at Panathinean stadium in Athens, Greece, October 19, 2021. The flame will be transported by torch relay to Beijing, China, which will host the February 4-20, 2022 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Among the more jarring declarations the detained Tibetans made following their release was the observation that, while in police custody, they “reported seeing a number of individuals who appeared to be of Asian ethnicity in police custody who had no links to the No Beijing 2022 campaign nor any understanding as to why they had been detained.”

Greek authorities have not offered a clear explanation for the situation as of press time.

“Immediately after leaving the press conference, two Tibetan activists, Tsering Gonpa and Tenzin Yangzom were stopped and detained by Greek police as they attempted to make their way back to their hotel,” the World Uyghur Congress detailed in a statement. Both activists, the group said, “had been previously detained on 18 October despite not engaging in any protest nor breaking any local or international laws.”

The pair were reportedly arrested on Monday and released but “not charged with a crime nor given a reason for their detention.” The World Uyghur Congress noted that the individuals had not been protesting or engaging in any sensitive or illegal activity, leaving them unsure of why police detained them. At no point, reportedly, did police explain their detention.

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 26: People wear protective masks as they walk front the logos of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics at Yanqing Ice Festival on February 26, 2021 in Beijing, China. The Festival comes at the final day of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

People wear protective masks as they walk by the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics logo at Yanqing Ice Festival on February 26, 2021, in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

 

 

Yangzom is a member of Students for a Free Tibet but asserted after her arrest, “I did not engage in any protests nor break any Greek laws and my detention exemplifies how easily fundamental freedoms are eroded when the Chinese Communist Party is in town.”

The Uyghur organization also denounced the intimidation of organizers of the press conference, including its member Zumretay Arkin. Two self-identified Chinese men reportedly took photos of the venue following the press conference and “did not respond to questions about why they were there or why they were recording the group.”

“Two other men of Greek descent also entered the private room as well as searching the entire floor of the venue. Again, they refused to answer any questions about who they were or what they were looking for,” the group noted. “They did enquire as to the whereabouts of Zumretay Arkin – who had left the room at the time.”

The Chinese Communist Party extensively spies on, threatens, and monitors people of ethnic Uyghur descent around the world. A Reuters report published in 2015 revealed that Beijing often threatens the safety of relatives still in East Turkestan, the Uyghur home region China refers to as Xinjiang, to force Uyghurs abroad to spy on their community. China has declared the head of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, a terrorist despite having no record of terrorist violence and has unsuccessfully browbeaten Interpol to issue a “red notice” for his arrest.

KASHGAR, CHINA - JULY 31: Chinese soldiers march in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China's largest, on July 31, 2014 in Kashgar, China. China has increased security in many parts of the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region following some of the worst violence in months in the Uyghur dominated area. (Photo by Getty Images)

Chinese soldiers march in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China’s largest, on July 31, 2014, in Kashgar, China. (Getty Images)

Arkin, who serves as program and advocacy manager at the World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement following the bizarre visit of the alleged Chinese and Greek men that she and others at the press conference “felt pressure and intimidation by both Greek authorities who were in touch with the venue about our plans, and individuals who were monitoring us and who we believe were Chinese agents.”

“It is absolutely unacceptable that this kind of intimidation is allowed to take place in a free and democratic country and it only reinforces our argument that China should not be allowed to host the Winter Olympics of 2022,” Arkin asserted.

The incidents followed the detention of at least five other Tibetan, Hong Kong, and other anti-communist activists engaging in protests against the genocidal Chinese state. In the other known cases, however, the individuals engaged in high-profile protests against China. Three protesters – Chemi Lhamo, Jason Leith, and activist Fern MacDougal – were arrested after interrupting the lighting of the Olympic flame in Athens, according to Students for a Free Tibet. The three are facing charges of “destruction of a monument,” an accusation for which no evidence exists, the group asserts.

Two other protesters, Americans Joey Siu and Tsela Zoksang, were arrested on Sunday after waving Tibetan and Hong Kong protest flags – an act not illegal in Greece. Students for a Free Tibet announced Monday that Athens had permitted the two to leave the country, and they would have to return to Greek court in January.

The birthplace of democracy and the world’s richest communist dictatorship have become increasingly close allies in the past decade as China has capitalized on the Greek debt crisis to make the European state dependent on it. Greece is a member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s global plan to acquire influence and territory abroad by offering vulnerable states predatory loans in the service of building expensive infrastructure projects. After joining the BRI, Greece signed an extradition treaty with China, meaning that anyone in Greece that Beijing accuses of violating Communist Party edicts could be shipped off into China’s notoriously opaque justice system. Extensive research and reporting by human rights activists and journalists have revealed in the past two decades the depth of violence and abuse in the Chinese prison system, including the torture and extraction of organs from political prisoners.

An ethnic Uyghur woman arranges raisins for sale at her stall with a billboard showing the late Communist Party leader Mao Zedong in the background before the Corban festival on September 8, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. The Corban festival, known to Muslims worldwide as Eid al-Adha or 'feast of the sacrifice', is celebrated by ethnic Uyghurs across Xinjiang, the far-western region of China bordering Central Asia that is home to roughly half of the country's 23 million Muslims. The festival, considered the most important of the year, involves religious rites and visits to the graves of relatives, as well as sharing meals with family. Although Islam is a 'recognized' religion in the constitution of officially atheist China, ethnic Uyghurs are subjected to restrictions on religious and cultural practices that are imposed by China's Communist Party. Ethnic tensions have fueled violence that Chinese authorities point to as justification for the restrictions. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

An ethnic Uyghur woman arranges raisins for sale at her stall with a billboard showing the late Communist Party leader Mao Zedong in the background before the Corban festival on September 8, 2016 in Turpan County, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

China is currently engaging in a genocide campaign to eradicate the Uyghur ethnic group, using hundreds of concentration camps to disappear them. Survivors say they were forced into communist indoctrination and subject to extreme torture, rape, and screening for live organ harvesting. A similar campaign is reportedly underway in Tibet to eradicate Tibetan language, culture, and especially Tibetan Buddhism. Hong Kong activists have joined the efforts against the 2022 Olympics after Beijing violated the ruling policy of the city, One Country Two Systems, and imposed communist laws in the former British colony, silencing protests against communism that attracted millions in 2019.

The Olympic flame managed to leave Athens and arrived in Beijing on Wednesday.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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