Angry delegates at the women's world forum near Peking fought off an attempt by Chinese security officials to seize a video shown by a small group of exiled Tibetan women yesterday.
Nine Tibetan women who managed to obtain entry visas to China held a workshop where they showed a video about three generations of Tibetan women. The video included criticisms of China's family planning policies and was watched by about 50 people in a packed, windowless room within the official site of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum at Huairou, outside Peking.
As the video finished, a plain-clothes security official and a hotel worker entered the room, squeezed through the audience and grabbed the tape from the machine. The angry organisers and delegates locked the door and there was scuffling as the cornered Chinese tried to escape. Amid shouting, the video was snatched back by the audience and quickly passed from hand to hand to the rear of the room, hidden in someone's bag, and smuggled out.
The issue of Tibet is even more sensitive than usual to the Chinese authorities because of today's 30th anniversary celebrations in Lhasa of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, establishing formal Chinese rule. Lhasa is under tight security for the staged festivities, for which 270 senior Chinese officials have been flown into the city.
A spokeswoman for the Tibetan Women's Delegation said nine exiled Tibetans had managed to obtain visas for the forum, but that at least 17 others around the world were banned.
Phuntsok Dolma, a member of the delegation, said: "Our mission is to be a voice for Tibetan women in Tibet and in exile." She said that since their arrival in China, the group had been "followed everywhere". Plainclothes policemen with cameras and video-cameras had recorded all their movements and exchanges. Asked about the celebrations in Lhasa, Ms Dolma said: "It's such an insult."
Under UN rules, there should be freedom of expression within the site. Supatra Masdit, the forum convener, said she would "look into" surveillance of the Tibetans.
She confirmed that by Wednesday night, only 17,000 NGO delegates had arrived, less than half the 36,000 originally registered for the forum. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs admitted that 4,000 delegates to the NGO Forum and the UN World Conference on Women, starting Monday, have not yet received entry permits.
The two meetings, held every 10 years, seek to address the biggest problems facing women, including discrimination, sexual abuse, education and health.
Yesterday, the first plenary session was launched with a video speech by Aung San Suu Kyi, the recently released Burmese opposition leader.
As the first plenary session started, Amnesty International, the London- based human rights group, unfurled a "clothes line" of 12 T-shirts, each with a face of a woman who has been persecuted in her country. One was Chinese.
Later, Amnesty delegates carried posters of the women to a screening of a video on five human-rights victims. Two testimonies were from Tibetans, a nun, Tsultrim Dolma, and a labour organiser, Lu Jinghua. Security officials filmed and taped the second Amnesty demonstration, but withdrew when the screening began.