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Concordia student arrested in China

by Archives September 2, 2008

Part-time Concordia student Chris Schwartz got his share of the spotlight at the Beijing Olympics. But instead of winning a medal, the Montreal-based activist generated international headlines after being arrested for participating in a pro-Tibet die-in on Tiananmen Square.
At 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 9, four activists from the New York branch of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) covered themselves in fake blood and Tibetan flags, which are banned in China, in the historically-charged Square. Schwartz, a 24 year-old Verdun resident and political science student, narrated the proceedings, explaining to the crowd of about 200 onlookers that they were witnessing a free-Tibet demonstration. The blood was symbolic of the recent brutality against protesters in Tibet.
While the die-in had been months in preparation, planned down to what the activists should and shouldn’t eat while in China, its actual duration lasted about 10 minutes, after which plainclothes officers escorted the five into a police van which brought them to the local police station.
Once at the station, Schwartz was questioned by officers, who asked about his identity and why he had participated in the demonstration. Schwartz describes the whole situation as being “complicated,” as the police would sometimes angrily declare that he knew nothing of the real situation in Tibet and at others they would happily discuss Manchester football.
Schwartz, along with the other activists, knew that they were in risk of spending time in jail for their demonstration. On Aug. 22, eight American SFT members were sentenced to 10 days in prison after chanting for Tibetan independence. “I was pretty afraid getting into it, I’m going to be honest,” said Schwartz.
Instead of being sentenced to jail time, Schwartz was driven down the highway at high speeds, and put on the first flight to Hong Kong at around 8:00 p.m. that same evening. “It was clear they wanted to silence us. [ . . . ] While I’m thankful we were deported so quickly, we also recognized that the potential consequences going into this action might have been very different,” explained Schwartz, now back in Montreal.
Once in Hong Kong, Schwartz was free to meet with the media and promote his cause to international outlets. “We got a huge amount of attention [ . . . ] these actions are designed to do just that, we just have to keep pushing,” said Schwartz of the die-in’s success.
The demonstration garnered no internal media attention in China – a search for keywords “demonstration,” “protest” and “die-in” yields no results on any of the country’s major news websites. Still, Schwartz maintains that “Tibetan independence is not a majority view in China, but more and more intellectuals and dissidents are beginning to speak out.”
On Aug. 26, foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Qang of the Chinese embassy in Ottawa was asked to comment at a press conference on an official’s statement that China had failed to handle demonstrations properly during the Olympics, “We have noted that the United States official and his colleagues have mentioned several foreigners in Beijing who engaged in separatist activities for ‘Tibet independence’ during the Olympics. By engaging in such activities, they broke Chinese laws, and it is only natural and proper that relevant Chinese authorities investigated and handled the incidents according to law.”

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