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3 pro-Tibet activists deported ahead of Olympic torch

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

HONG KONG -- Three pro-Tibet activists who planned to protest during Hong Kong's leg of the Olympic torch relay were deported after they arrived at the territory's airport Tuesday, activists said.

It was the second known instance in which activists have been denied entry ahead of the Olympic torch's arrival in Hong Kong today. The flame's return to Chinese soil follows a global tour marred by protests against Beijing's human rights record and recent crackdown in Tibet.

Mia Farrow is due to arrive here Thursday to raise awareness about fighting in Sudan's Darfur region. Activists such as the 63-year-old actress want China to press Sudan to let U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

The Hong Kong leg of the torch relay Friday is a high-stakes event for the local government because it marks the flame's homecoming to Chinese soil after a world tour tarnished by protests.

Hong Kong, a former British colony now ruled by China, is supposed to enjoy Western-style civil liberties such as freedom of expression that are denied in the mainland. It grants visa-free entry to many Westerners, raising the prospects of demonstrations.

Tight security

Authorities plan to deploy 3,000 officers to guard the flame, which was carried through Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, earlier Tuesday -- the last international leg of the relay.

Activists said Kate Woznow and Tsering Lama, organizers of Students for a Free Tibet, and Matt Whitticase, organizer of the Free Tibet Campaign, were turned away after arriving in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Woznow, a Canadian, said she was put on a return flight to New York. Whitticase, a British citizen, was booked on a return flight to London, Free Tibet Campaign spokeswoman Claire Cooper said.

Tsering Lama, an ethnic Tibetan Canadian citizen, was also deported, but it wasn't immediately clear where she was headed, said Students for a Free Tibet spokeswoman Lhadon Tethong. She traveled to Hong Kong from Toronto.

The grounds for the deportations wasn't immediately clear. Hong Kong officials have said repeatedly they won't discuss individual cases.

In a phone call from the plane before takeoff, Woznow said immigration officials questioned her about her trip but gave no reason for turning her away.

Woznow accused the Hong Kong government of caving in to pressure from Beijing.

"I really thought that Hong Kong authorities were different from Beijing," she said.

On Saturday, three Danish human rights activists were detained and deported. Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot and his two sons were questioned for six hours and then put on a flight to Denmark, a cameraman traveling with them said.

Galschiot sculpted the "The Pillar of Shame," which depicts 50 twisted human bodies to mourn victims of the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

Hong Kong Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee met with Danish Consul General Jorgen Mollegaard and European Union and French diplomats Tuesday to discuss Galschiot's case, a government spokesman said.

Mollegaard did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Mark Allison, a spokesman for Amnesty International's Hong Kong branch, urged the government to explain the grounds for the deportations.

Also on Tuesday, the government of Nepal said it had deported American mountaineer William Brant Holland of Midlothian, Va., for violating regulations by bringing a "Free Tibet" banner to the Mount Everest base camp. It also ordered a BBC news crew out of the camp.

Nepal, not wanting to hurt relations with Beijing, is trying to enforce a strict ban on protests during China's upcoming Olympic torch relay to the summit of the world's highest mountain. Dozens of armed Nepalese soldiers have been posted at Mount Everest's base camp and at Camp 2, a lower stop for mountaineers.

The relay up Everest will take place on the Chinese side of the mountain. But Nepal's government, under pressure from Beijing, has posted soldiers on its side and banned climbing near the summit from May 1-10.

Climbers will not be allowed to go past Everest's Camp 2 -- at 21,325 feet -- until after the Chinese finish their torch relay on the mountain, sometime in May when weather permits.


Associated Press writers Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong and Binaj Gurubacharya contributed to this report.


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