China frees 3 Canadian activists after Tibet protest

Three Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities following a protest at the Great Wall against the Chinese presence in Tibet have been released.

Canadians, all from British Columbia, were demanding China pull out of Tibet

Three Canadians arrested by Chinese police following a protest at the Great Wall againstChina's presence in Tibet have been released.

Melanie Raoul of Vancouver was arrested Tuesday in China. ((Courtesy of Freya Putt))

The British Columbian activists — Lhadon Tethong, Sam Price and Melanie Raoul — left China after their release on Wednesday and flew into Hong Kong.

"It was draining, exhausting, psychologically traumatizing, although we weren't physically hurt," Raoul, 25,told CBC News from Hong Kong.

Raoul and Price, both of Vancouver, were arrested Tuesday after they unfurled a 42-square-metre banner reading "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008" in English and Chinese from the Great Wall.

The banner adds three words — "Free Tibet 2008" — to the official slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which began their one-year countdownonTuesday.

Activists unfurled a giant banner from the Great Wall of China Tuesday. ((Courtesy of Freya Putt) )

Tethong,31,was arrested Wednesday. She was not involved in the Great Wall protest, but she spent her time in China writing a blog and posting videos and photos online about what the group calls China's "propaganda campaign" leading up to next year's Olympic Games.

Five otheractivists — two from the U.K and three from the United States — were also arrested and released.

All the activists are part of Students for a Free Tibet, a New York-based group for which Tethong serves as executive director.

Tethong said the group knew their actions on the Great Wall weren't legal and that arrests were a possibility.

Lhadon Tethong, one of three Canadian protesters released by Chinese authorities, is seen at a Buddhist temple in Beijing in this undated photo. ((Beijing Wide Open/Canadian Press) )

"We knew that was the most likely scenario, but it's not like it was the goal of what we were doing," said Tethong, a Tibetan-Canadian who was born and raised in Victoria, but now lives inNew York.

"The goal was to raise the issue."

"Some people might think that's sort of extreme, but we would say China violating the fundamental human rights of Tibetans and their own people and the cultural genocide of Tibet is extreme."

Police surroundedTethong in front of an Olympic merchandise store in Beijing and demanded to see her passport. They brought her into a police station, where they showed her printouts of her blog.

"They definitely took jabs at me for being Tibetan," Tethong said. "They were saying I have an an accent like a Chinese and I have blood from China."

'We were scared for her'

Tethong's sister, Deyden Tethong, told CBC News that she and her familywere scared while Tethong was in custody.

"It was nerve-racking for us," Deyden said at 12:15 ET, about 15 minutes afterlearning that her sister had boarded a plane out of Beijing.

"We were very scared for her, but at the same time she keeps saying, 'I have a Canadian passport, so I know people are looking out for me.'"

Sam Price, 32, was one of six activists arrested Tuesday in China. ((Courtesy of Freya Putt))

Deyden said she was surprised her sister was detained, since she was not part of the group of activists on the Great Wall.

"The activists that were taken off the Great Wall, that made sense," Deyden said. "It was pushing the boundaries and it was illegal, but my sister, all she was doing was blogging about her feelings … and talking about what she saw and what she felt."

Raoul's mother, Valerie, said she is excited to see her daughter again.

"We don't know when they'll be comingback to Vancouver, but they know they'll get a really big welcome," she said.

Harper promised to help

The incident drew international attention, with videos of the Great Wall protest posted on YouTube. Prior to news of the activists release, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday that his government was working to gather information.

"We'll be doing everything we can do to help and of course pointing out to the Chinese government — as we're entitled to do — that such expressions of opinion are a natural part of the human rights that Canadians do expect in this country," Harper said.

The Students for a Free Tibet groupwants Tibet freed from China and say the Chinese government is using the Games to gain international acceptance.

The group also wants the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to push the case for Tibetan freedom.

China invaded Tibet in 1950, and in 1999 declared it to be an "inseparable part of China." In 2004, a government policy paper said Tibet had always been part of China, and before the Chinese imposed direct rule, Tibet was "even darker and more backward than medieval Europe."

With files from the Canadian Press