British activists return home as heroes

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The Independent Online

Two British activists arrested in Beijing earlier this week for hanging pro-Tibet banners outside the Olympic stadium have returned home to a hero's welcome.

Lucy Fairbrother, 23, and Iain Thom, 24, both campaigners with Students for a Free Tibet, were cheered and garlanded with traditional Tibetan silk scarves as they walked through the arrivals hall at London City Airport following more than 12 hours in Chinese custody.

Their protest on Wednesday bypassed more than 100,000 security officials guarding the "Bird's Nest" stadium and was the first public pro-Tibet demonstration to be conducted by foreigners in China during the run-up to the Olympics.

Two American activists also took part in the protest which involved climbing 120ft lighting poles to hang the banners bearing "Free Tibet" and other slogans in English and Chinese. Despite the tight security, the protesters had been able to smuggle the banners and climbing gear into China. Mr Thom, a former Friends of the Earth employee and an expert climber from Edinburgh, told reporters: "It was not difficult to get through security as we had been planning this for four years."

Ms Fairbrother, whose father is a former bursar of Trinity College, Cambridge, said: "On the whole, we were treated very well. When we got to the police station we were all separated and interrogated and they asked us many questions about our views on Tibet but ultimately the way we were treated was absolutely nothing in comparison to how China treats those Tibetans and Chinese citizens who are brave enough to speak out."

Ms Fairbrother's mother, Linda, a broadcast journalist who greeted her daughter said: "It's wonderful to have her back."

Hours before their arrival in London large pro-Tibet protests broke out in the capitals of India and Nepal, both of which have large Tibetan exile communities. Police in Kathmandu used bamboo sticks to disperse the crowds and detained at least 513 protesters.

In Beijing plainclothes officers dragged away three US activists who were protesting in Tiananmen Square against the recent arrest of a number of prominent Chinese Christian leaders.

Meanwhile, The Independent has learnt that a number of other foreign nationals, including British citizens, are still in Beijing planning similar protests over the coming days. At least one British activist was deported earlier this week when he got to passport control at Beijing airport.