Tibet protest Britons detained in Beijing

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The Independent Online

Two Britons were arrested today for displaying Free Tibet banners close to the Olympics stadium in Beijing.

Lucy Fairbrother, 23, and Iain Thom, 24, were arrested alongside two US activists, after unfurling a Free Tibet banner outside the Olympic stadium in Beijing.

Lucy's mother, Linda, said: "Lucy is fighting for the freedom and democracy of Tibet and is doing what she feels is right, and what I feel is right. Obviously I'm worried - any parent would be - but I am certain that China would not resort to torture or abuse when the eyes of the world are upon them."

Iain Thom's father Brian said he had heard from the protester since his arrest.

He said in interview with BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "We did get a text directly from him saying he was fine and he was being treated well and that was about an hour after his detention."

"Of course I am worried about his safety, he has been detained by the police. I would like to think he will be fine. I have no reason really to think that he won't be treated properly.

"I am very proud of him, he is passionate about their human rights ... I have to take my hat off to him. He has taken up the cause and wants to highlight it to the world."

Linda Fairbrother, 58, a broadcast journalist, said she and her husband Jeremy, a City banker, last spoke to Lucy a week ago.

She said the Foreign Office has been in contact but said officials have not been given access to her daughter.

Speaking from her home in Cambridge, she said: "I am not an activist myself but I am a world citizen and I have tried to bring my children up to be world citizens.

"Lucy did warn us that she would probably be arrested so it has not come as a surprise.

"I expect that she will be deported in the next two days. If something worse happens then we will fly out there."

The four protesters that have been detained are members of the Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) group.

They were arrested at 7am local time (midnight BST), after having displayed two 140-square-foot banners outside the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, for nearly an hour, bearing Free Tibet slogans in English and Chinese.

The protest happened hours before the Olympic torch was due to arrive in Tiananmen Square, and two days before the Olympics opening ceremony takes place at the stadium.

Lucy has been involved in the SFT since Sixth Form College and was president of the group at Bristol University, before she graduated last summer and moved to London.

Iain Thom, who lives in Edinburgh, is a grassroots co-ordinator for the organisation and has just finished working for Friends of the Earth Scotland.

He recorded a statement while he made the protest, which was released by SFT today.

He said: "I'm a long-term Tibet supporter and I feel that now is a really critical time for Tibet.

"We did this action today to highlight the Chinese government's use of the Beijing Olympics as a propaganda tool.

"They are whitewashing their human rights record on Tibet so our action today shines a spotlight on those atrocities.

"In March Tibetans took to the streets, risking everything in their calls for justice and human rights, and we stand today, with this action, in solidarity with those calls."

The website names the two Americans as Phill Bartell, 34, from Boulder, Colorado, and Tirian Mink, 32, a project manager from Portland, Oregon.

A British Embassy spokesman said: "We are aware of reports of two British nationals being detained near the national stadium in Beijing.

"We are in touch with the Chinese authorities and are requesting immediate consular access should this information be correct."

Two other SFT members, James Murray and Jenny Raynor, scaled Tower Bridge in London today to display a banner that read: "Beijing 2008: Make Olympic History: Free Tibet."

The action by Edinburgh University student Mr Murray, 23, and Ms Raynor, 26, of Cambridge University, was one of a series of demonstrations carried out by Tibetans and their supporters around the world, SFT said.

Mr Thom, 53, later said that his son's interest in Tibet had been sparked as a student, and that he had visited the region shortly after graduating two years ago.

Speaking from his home near Inverness, he said: "It was during his time at university and through the people he met that he really became interested in Tibet.

"He was very open about his interest, and I discussed it with him many times.

"He travelled out there two years ago, did a lot of walking and climbing, and had a fantastic time.

"The experience made his feelings for the place even stronger."

Mr Thom, who works in construction, said he was aware of his son's protest plans before he left for China but did not try to stand in his way.

He said: "I felt he was so passionate about it I couldn't say don't do it. In fact, I wholeheartedly backed him to do it.

"He set out to achieve something, and he has done that."

Mr Thom said he would go to China if his son was not released promptly.

"Of course, if it would help the situation, I would go out immediately," he said.

"But we are hoping he is released soon and that he comes home as quickly as possible."