BEIJING (Reuters) - At least eight American blogger-activists and several other foreigners have been detained in Beijing as the government intensifies a crackdown on pro-Tibetan protests in the home stretch of the Olympics, rights groups said on Wednesday.
Students for a Free Tibet earlier said authorities detained five self-styled “citizen journalists” who were in Beijing to promote Tibetan freedom on Tuesday. The New York-based group said activist-artist James Powderly had also been nabbed.
Later on Wednesday, the group said four more protesters, including two Americans and a British national, were also detained after unfurling a Tibetan flag outside the National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest.”
The Beijing Olympics have not been dogged by the widespread demonstrations that authorities had feared. Several protesters advocating for Tibet independence have nonetheless managed to breach tight security, in one case hanging a “Free Tibet” banner outside the headquarters of the state broadcaster.
China is particularly sensitive to criticism of its rule in Tibet, the far-western region Communist troops entered in 1950.
“In relation to foreigners holding demonstrations in Beijing in support of Tibet independence, competent authorities have the right to handle these things according to law,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference on Wednesday.
“I’d also like to emphasize that in China, activities that support Tibet independence will be strongly condemned by the Chinese people and will not be welcomed.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said China had blocked more than 50 Web sites carrying news or advocating on behalf of pro-Tibetan groups, including the group's site (www.cpj.org), before the Games began, reneging on pre-Olympics promises of Internet freedoms.
A member of Students for a Free Tibet said the group had experienced cyberattacks aimed at making its U.S. Web site hard to use.
New York-based Human Rights in China says 24 protesters — critics of the Communist Party and their family members — were detained or put under watch before the Olympics opened.
Beijing resident Dong Jiqin said his wife Ni Yulan was jailed in April when authorities began clearing out activists and others they felt may draw media attention away from the Games.
“I cannot watch the Games,” Dong said from his cluttered apartment in the heart of the capital. “I’m afraid my wife isn’t safe. We think the Olympics should be held, but I am just not in the mood to watch it.”
In another case, petitioners Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, were sentenced to one year of “re-education through labor” after repeatedly applying to demonstrate in areas set aside for protests during the Games, Human Rights in China said.
“In China, as in other countries, applications for demonstrations must go through legal procedures,” the Foreign Ministry’s Qin said when asked about the two petitioners.
None of dozens of applications to protest has been approved.
“They wanted to see us stuck in jail so the Olympics would look better,” Dong said.
Additional reporting by Gary Crosse in New York