Beijing and Tibet: GRL's James Powderly, Brian of "Alive in Baghdad, 4 other US citizens receive 10-day jail sentence

A representative of Students for a Free Tibet tells Boing Boing that 6 American bloggers and pro-Tibet activists who went missing in Beijing for days after being detained by authorities have re-appeared -- and that authorities have given them a sentence of ten days in jail each for "upsetting public order."

The names of the missing bloggers/vloggers and activists presumed to have been those jailed:

- James Powderly (Graffitti Research Lab )
- Brian Conley (Alive In Baghdad blog)
- Jeffrey Rae
- Jeff Goldin
- Michael Liss
- Tom Grant

Details on SFT website, with statements from that group alleging recent extra-judicial executions and detentions of ethnic Tibetan protesters inside Tibet:

A Tibetan nun named Sonam Yungzom is reported to have been shot while shouting slogans in Kardze town, eastern Tibet (now part of Sichuan province) on August 10th. One source says she yelled out: “There are no human rights in China, there is brutal oppression in Tibet, still the Olympics go on in China.” She was hit by five to six bullets and then her body was thrown in a vehicle and taken away.

Snip from a news article about the jailed protesters in Beijing:

In a brief faxed statement, the city police information department said "Thomas" and five other foreigners had been apprehended on Tuesday for "upsetting public order", without identifying the six people any further.

"Beijing police decided to give the six 10 days of administrative detention," the faxed statement said.

Administrative detention is a punishment that can be meted out by Chinese police without having to go through the courts. Students For a Free Tibet said it assumed the six were American pro-Tibet activists who police detained in Beijing on Tuesday.

"These young men were in Beijing to amplify Tibetan voices calling for freedom and human rights and the right of all people to freedom of expression," Students For a Free Tibet executive director Lhadon Tethong said.

Six foreigners given 10 days' detention: Beijing police (Agence-France Presse). (Thanks, NF)

Previously on Boing Boing blog:
* Beijing update: New detentions, 6 US protesters missing, Tibetan protesters in Tibet reportedly shot dead.
* Beijing: "Alive in Baghdad" videoblogger among US citizens detained in pro-Tibet protests
* Beijing: Five US activists detained after lighting up "Free Tibet" LED Throwies banner near Olympics site
* GRL's James Powderly detained in Beijing for planning pro-Tibet "L.A.S.E.R. Stencil" art protest

Related episodes of Boing Boing tv:
* BBtv WORLD (Tibet): Inside Lhasa
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet report - monks forced to participate in staged videos.
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet's uprising and the internet


  1. As there is no right to freedom of expression under Chinese Law, this sounds right and appropriate as a sentence.
    Also soon great inside stories of life in Chinese jails, I hope.

  2. Call me ignorant, but can’t they just flee the country?

    I would.

    I’m sorry, but being an American in a dirty, smelly Chinese jail (as apposed to the dirty, smelly American jails) just doesn’t sound very…agreeable.

  3. I have heard that under US law if you are convicted of a felony in other country you’re considered a felon here, too, at least as far as voting and gun ownership goes. Does anyone here know the law on that? And if that is correct, will these six now lose the right to vote here because of this conviction?

  4. Have to check carefully on return for evidence of irradiation, viral/prion infection and other little jokes of the politburo.

  5. Sorry to hear James Powderly, Brian Conley and others are going to be detained for 10 days, but glad to have some clarity on their situation.

    On another note:

    Your in the post to STF goes to the wrong website.

  6. As sinister as the Chinese aversion to free expression is, this just reminds me of how European police keep rowdy football supporters in the clink until game weekend’s over.

  7. They are in custody so flight’s out.
    The felon/misdemeanor thing may not obtain in China, so it might be the State Department’s call.
    If it’s only 10 days, it’s pretty minor. Surprised they won’t spring ’em onto an Airplane in exchange for a fine but they must want them bottled till after the Games.
    My two cents, FWIW.

  8. @Xeni,

    You are welcome. I appreciate BB helping get the word out. I have great affection and esteem for Both James and Brian and want their asses back in the US of A.

  9. Hey these “Students for”…aren’t they the hotheads calling for violence, contrary to the Dalai Lamas org? I know some fracturing of the Tibetan exiles has been going on…with the amount of violence to use as the crack…just not sure on names…

  10. This is simply a means of keeping them from “disrupting public order” of the elaborate stage show that is the games with all that messy free speech stuff.

    10 days (plus time already in custody) for speaking their minds in peaceful protest. It’s sickening.

  11. @11 MGFARRELLY

    10 days (plus time already in custody) for speaking their minds in peaceful protest. It’s sickening.

    Yes, that’s true, but…

    This is China. They’re “lucky” they didn’t get shot. Remember the briefcase guy from Tiananmen square? He was taken out and shot afterwards.

  12. @#10 Students for a Free Tibet is absolute 100% til the end of time committed to non-violence. Why else do you think all these folks in Beijing climb poles, hang banners, do street theater, create LED throwie signs… violence is easy… creativity in the face of violent cops is scary and hard.

    SFT’s Mission:
    “Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) works in solidarity with the Tibetan people in their struggle for freedom and independence. We are a chapter-based network of young people and activists around the world. Through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action, we campaign for Tibetans’ fundamental right to political freedom. Our role is to empower and train youth as leaders in the worldwide movement for social justice. “

  13. The US Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee is on +1 202 225 5021 (thanks to ReadWriteWeb for this). Consider giving them a call to politely express your concern and to encourage them to urge the Chinese government to respect the rights of all those detained (of whatever nationality).

  14. Is there anything backing up these (as far as I can see unsubstantiated) claims of peaceful protesters being shot in Tibet?

    It’s a Very Big Deal if that’s actually happening, but it’s very hard to know what to believe when you hear anecdotal reports with very few corroborators and little physical evidence. Of course, it’s quite possible the evidence is out there and I just haven’t seen it.

  15. So i’ll bet you once in jail they will have an “accident” where they will either get injured or possibly die.

  16. Horrific.

    However, I am a big fat chicken and would not even set foot in China because foreign totalitarian states creep me out. But I feel perfectly at home here in the US.

  17. I could’ve sworn they were going to slip on a wet floor onto bamboo stakes 57 times.

    Good for them I’m wrong.

  18. @#20 the issue of what is “backing up claims” of the crackdown in Tibet, is at the core of the Tibetan movement’s efforts. Unfortunately, there is a complete media blackout in the Tibetan areas of China since the March uprising. Very few foreign journalists are allowed in, and then only to certain areas with a fulltime escort.

    Not only does this not allow any “credentialed” proof of events such as these, but it also directly violates the media freedom China promised the IOC (and the world) to have the right to host the games.

  19. I’m guess this means they won’t doing any more foreign travel. This event and the attention it generated just *might* put them on a “do not allow” list or two…or three…or four.

  20. @21

    “hotheads calling for violence” you called them?

    “Almost contemporaneously, a 1300-kilometer, ninety day march through India to the Tibetan border organized by the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (hereinafter TPUM) fizzled to a miserable conclusion as its last few dozen members were arrested as they tried to peacefully shoulder their way past a blockade of 200 Indian police in the remote border town of Dharchula. The marchers were released—and subsequently dispersed–amid international indifference.”

  21. I hereby declare jihad on the NSA. They deliberately snubbed me by omitting me from the death-list. I will have my vengeance.

  22. Hah, so many of the comments here remind me of the Cold War in the 70s & 80s. You heard all these horror stories about Communism and bread lines and scarcity, yet my suburban Northern California grocery store would still be out of Grape Nuts or my brand of toilet paper on the days it was on sale (and even when it was not). Experiences like this convinced me that the U.S. and whatever bugbear it decided to stand in opposition to are not really that different and that anybody who brings up Midnight Express imagery when comparing countries is more than likely wallowing in hysterics.

  23. It’s just so god damn depressing. And there’s nothing I can do about it. All it does is encourage a sort of general hatred of the Chinese, which is illogical. It’s their government that’s hurting people.

    Nothing is going to change until our own disgusting, opportunistic government stops trading with the Chinese and encouraging their monstrous behavior. If we can place a trade embargo on Cuba, we can do the same with China. That will be the first step.

  24. “If we can place a trade embargo on Cuba, we can do the same with China. That will be the first step.”

    I hear what you’re saying, but it would cause hardship for a lot of America’s poor. As much as I hate Walmart, it’s the only place some people can afford to shop. I buy American products whenever I can, but those products are more expensive and are increasingly difficult to find. I shudder when I look at the current US-China trade deficit (see link below and compare 1985 stats to 2008 stats). Where the cure lies, I have no idea. Maybe the next president can offer tax incentives to US corporations who shun foreign labor.

  25. Tibet is bigger than Texas and California combined. I think the PRC should give the Tibetan Movement Llasa and keep the rest for the mineral rights and sovereignty face-save.

  26. The PRC needs to be convinced that a free Tibet would be in its interests….and these guys are fairly subtle logicians…kinda like the Jesuits can be. If they can be convinced that a free Tibet is or would be both in their and in the Tibetan’s interests (but mostly their own, natch), the result should just follow of its own accord.
    I mean, Tibet is not equivalent to Taiwan when it comes to being “part of China”, from the PRC’s point of view, from what I understand. I don’t doubt that Tibet long paid tribute to the Courts of the East, but I really wouldn’t know. But much much more autonomy for Tibet IMO would in fact be in China’s long-term best interests.
    It is just that this really isn’t my fight, and it’s none of my business, brusque and cold as that seems. FWIW I wish ’em all the best. Better jaw-jaw than war-war.
    And later…we dance!

  27. I just spent two weeks in China, and from a “boots on the ground” perspective, it’s not the “foreign totalitarian state” that some pollyannas have in their mind.

    But, it is a single-party, centrally ruled government that doesn’t place a high value on freedom of speech, especially when it’s speech against the government. And from China’s perspective, how dare foreigners try and intervene in internal Chinese affairs? This is a country that has only in the last 40 years opened it’s doors to the west, and with good reason after the disaster the British and Dutch expansions into China were in the 19th century.

    Frankly, it’s amazing that these activists were able to get visas. They must have lied on their visa applications, because they have very detailed documentation requirements about your plans inside the country once you get there. What did they expect to happen when they got there? Foreign protesters to be greeted with open arms? Would the USA do the same thing to, say, Chinese nationals coming to America specifically to protest?

  28. wldn’t bthr wstng wrds hr. t sm pnt sm rctnry lbrl mdrtr (sms t lst 18 f thm s gd lck wth tht rffl) wll nsst tht smthng y sd ffndd t lst n f svrl mlln nd wll scrmbl yr psts n ths tpc n ct wy f mkng cnsrshp fn (r t lst fn-ny t ths wh thnk scrmbld strxs mk fr mr tchn-frndly f th cltrl rvltn).

    Lbrl fscsts r s bd s Cnsrvtv fscsts. S why dn’t nrmlly pst n ths thrds? Wst f typng. prdct t lst 40% f ths thrd wll b nrdbl n 24 hrs.

    D cntn t rll t th rd crpt fr th Mzs. Y’v dn bng p jb fr th PRC nd th C. Why stp nw?

  29. Having recently been dis-emvowelled meself, I still have no complaints. I can get rude as well as ugly when passions are engaged. Apologies.

    1. Canuck,

      You were just off topic. Also, were you drunk dialing, because some of those read like The Sound and The Fury?

  30. apparently mgabrys_SF just needs to stamp his lil feet and throw a hissy about all us ‘liberal fascists’ doing whatever the evil we are wont to do. in my opinion, he is just being rude and dickish. dickish. what a great word!

  31. Yeah well sometimes I find it tough to stay on-topic and contributory, but I don’t ever set out to be trollish, though. But it does sometimes come out that way.
    Still like the mod policy, keep it up.

  32. They shot a nun?
    I mean…I know I sound ridiculously naive, because of all the violence that happened to the peacefully protesting monks earlier this year. But…they shot a nun. ;_;

  33. What would be nice is if there were a “BoingBoing Politics” just like there is “BoingBoing Gadgets”. That way, we could read to get our fill of Wonderful Things and then go to the companion site to get our fill of the editors’ political causes.

  34. James Powderly’s dad is a dear friend of mine, and we are hoping that James will be back in America soon and that he will return healthy and unharmed. He risked his own well-being to demonstrate on the behalf of people who don’t have the right to voice their own demands and feelings, and I think he should be commended for that. He has people who love and care about him, and our thoughts and prayers are with him.

  35. @11
    1. No foreigner was going to get shot.
    2. No one knows what happened to tank man.

    That’s interesting that you said that the Chinese had “very detailed documentation requirements about your plans inside the country once you get there.” I got a Chinese visa. It’s still valid. It was a single line. I wrote “Tourism. Business.” No problem. Some detail.

  36. So several bloggers go to a foreign country and break the law there and are subsequently arrested. Not sure is there is a story here. I know whenever I travel overseas I obey the local laws and not pretend that I am still under my home country’s (Australia) legal system.

    I am sure these bloggers were well intentioned but wtf did they think would happen when they break the law in a foreign country?

    1. DarkSun,

      They knew what would happen. Do you not understand the idea that someone might be willing to make a personal sacrifice for other people?

  37. Yeah I understand they did it on purpose to promote their own goals (ie awareness of Tibet’s plight, new material to blog about, etc) but I don’t think that this sort of activity should be promoted. They are guests in a foreign country and it seems hypocritical to protest the host country’s misgivings while the US has a history of atrocities that are of a similar degree.

  38. gr wth Drksn. Cnsdr wht wld hppn f bnch f, lt’s sy, Frnch prtstrs ssmbld t th S’s lctn crmny, wth bg bnnr syng “HBS CRPS” n t.

    Y thnk thy’r nt gnn gt rrstd, nd gvn gd tsng?

  39. for those who think the Tibetans should be abandoned to be crushed on their own: what would you do if it were your turn?

  40. @50 (Coaxial, Re: Visas)

    Since March, China has made visa requirements much more strict, specifically to avoid problems with Olympic protesters.

    When I applied, we brought a detailed itinerary (suggested by our travel agent) showing every place we were going to be (throughout Fuijan Province) throughout every day of the trip.

    And check again, unless you’ve been there in the last 90 days, your visa isn’t valid any longer. They issue them for 90-day periods, at a cost of $150 an application.

    Chinese visas in 2008 are much harder to obtain than Chinese visas in previous years.

  41. wld ls lk t sy – nbdy hs ny “RGHT” t ntr frgn cntry. Smply by crssng nt thr trrtry, y’r mplctly ccptng thr lws, whthr y gr wth thm r nt.

    Whl th prtstrs my fl vry pssntly bt thr cs, thy’r brnng thrgh th gdwll tht lt thm nt thr cntry n th frst plc. t’s xtrmly dsrspctfl nd jst prsntng wrs mg f frgnrs t cntry tht lrdy hs bd mg f frgnrs.

  42. @Chicagojon – Do you really think protestors are the least bit concerned with upsetting their hosts?

    I mean, protesters wouldn’t want to be rude or anything.

    How terribly uncivil of those dirty hippies.

  43. @MDHTTR – xctly my pnt. Prtstrs shldn’t b trvlng t frgn cntrs t prtst th hsts, nlss thy’r flly prprd t b thrwn nt frgn prsns r frcbly rmvd frm th cntry.

    nd t ntns’ pnt f “scrfcng fr th Tbtn ppl” – rlly? Hw trrbly slf-cntrd. D thy hnstly thnk tht th vrg sstnnc frmr n Tbt s wr f th fct tht mddl-clss tchncrts frm mrc r “scrfcng” thmslvs by spndng wk n Chns prsn n bhlf f thm? Wld thy cndn sch ctns?

  44. Attention, please

    Boing Boing and BBTV have hosted numerous posts on the current situation in Tibet. Those comment threads have touched on many issues related to the current and past situation there. Here’s a list of some of the livelier discussions about this issue:

    Protest inside Tibet captured on tourists’ cameras

    Police attack peacefully protesting monks in Tibet

    Tibet: more deaths, injuries in Lhasa as crackdown grows

    Tibet: China blocks YouTube, protests spread, bloggers react

    Tibet: nearly 1,000 jailed in Lhasa, Dalai Lama offers to resign

    To do in SF – Tibet rally on April 8, Richard Gere, Desmond Tutu

    Photo of pro-Tibet protest on Golden Gate Bridge

    And of course, the two posts that are currently on BB:

    Beijing: Five US activists detained after lighting up “Free Tibet” LED Throwies banner near Olympics site

    GRL’s James Powderly detained in Beijing for planning pro-Tibet “L.A.S.E.R. Stencil” art protest

    From our Moderation Policy:

    7. Failing to notice that there are other people in the conversation. Posting a remark that’s already been made five times and answered six. Coming back and re-posting essentially the same material after a twenty-message thread has discussed your previous comment. Trying to forcibly wrench the conversation onto one of your own pet topics. Posting a stale, canned rant you’ve posted a dozen times before at other sites. Not coming back to see how others have responded to you.

    Before posting in this thread, please familiarize yourself with the territory of this ongoing discussion. Repetitive arguments, unsupported claims, cut-and-paste posturing or disingenuous concern for the plight of any and everyone except the subject of the post will be removed. Links to the same articles that have already been linked a dozen times will be removed. Links to up-to-date, reputable news sources are, naturally, most welcome.

    Thank you for making this a lively, civil and compassionate discussion about the plight of the Tibetan people.

  45. “for those who think the Tibetans should be abandoned to be crushed on their own: what would you do if it were your turn?”

    I don’t recall anyone saying that the Tibetans should be abandoned. People merely pointed out that there’s an expectation to be a courteous guest when visiting another country. Rather then being an ugly American tourist, it may be better to form awareness campaigns locally. Hand out flyers, go door-to-door and talk to people. Making headlines by being arrested in a foreign country shifts the focus from Tibetans to the protesters. Same thing happened when protesters attacked a lady in a wheelchair who was taking part in the torch relay. People see that and it makes them think that protesters are buffoons. If you want people to help the Tibetans, educate the public. Calmly explain that peoples’ rights are being trampled. Even Neocons will agree if you tell them, “Imagine if you lived in a country where you weren’t freely able to go to the church of your choice. That’s what is happening in Tibet right now.”

  46. knw hw Txs, Nw Mxc, rzn, Clfrn, nd Hw bcm prt f th S. W tk thm by frc r th thrt f frc. W dd th sm thng n Prt Rc nd thr plcs s wll. r cntry frcd ppl t gv p thr cltr nd rght t ndpndnc nd, vn tdy, mny f ths ppl nd thr dscndnts rmn ngry bt t. t wld d ths ppl n gd whtvr fr ctvsts frm thr cntrs t prpgndz nd rs hll bt th wy n whch th ntd Stts gt hld f thr lnds, nd trts thm tdy. Thr lnds r prt f th ntd Stts.

    Tbt s prt f Chn. ctng lk t s nt jst crts prblms fr pr ppl crrntly lvng n Tbt wh wnt t hv lf. ngh lrdy!

  47. I wonder if the Students for a Free Tibet will share notes with the Students for a Free Hawaii.

    Or maybe they can pick up some pointers from the Students for a Free Palestine. Now that would be fun!

  48. there ARE people who go to Israel and lay down their lives for the sake of the Palestinians oppressed by the Israeli government policies. Did you you know this? Or did you intend to trivialize their efforts as well?

  49. @Elle7772 I don’t begrudge the position of friends and family of those who have been detained but their loved ones are not going to be mistreated while in custody. Even the military crew of the grounded spy plane was returned unharmed.

    And, frankly, I imagine that all the protesters went to Beijing with the full expectation of being arrested and, upon their release, will be further ennobled for having been detained. So, in the end, they will have achieved precisely what the set out to achieve.

  50. 1) Pstrs bv: s t s xpnsv t by vwl?
    2)…S ctzns wh thnk ths ppl n Bjng gt mr hrrfc trtmnt thn …sy Chns grp rrvng n th S t prtst bt Gntnm/th NS/S trrr lws… d y thnk t’s tm t wk p nw? nd myb rlz hw lnnt ths ctn s cmprd t wht hppns n th S – ths gys r stll ntsd!
    3) nd, dd t crss yr mnd tht Chn jst my b mr fr nd tlrnt thn th gd l S f rght nw?

    4)Thght nt…


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