Arrest of Tibet protesters - Background Briefing
Background to concern over the arrest of Tibet protesters
Fabian is pleased to be able to share his background briefing to his urgent question to the Police Minister concerning the arrest of three peaecful Tibet protesters during the visit of the Chinese President. These matters were of grave concern to Fabian and to other Members of Parliament who supported Fabian in holding to account the Rt. Hon. Mike Penning MP, Minister of State at the Home Office, who is responsible for policing.
I regard these incidents, and the raids on the detainees’ homes by police where computers and other equipment were seized, as a matter of urgency and grave concern. The three individuals, two of whom are British citizens, had done nothing more than engage in their legitimate right to peaceful protest – something that is certainly within English law.
It is clear from responses to this incident that many members of the public are also deeply concerned about Her Majesty’s Government appearing to bend over backwards to provide a platform for the leader of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping at the cost of people’s privacy and rights.
The three individuals – Dr Shao Jiang and two Tibetan women, Sonam Choden and Jamphel Lhamo, – were arrested in two separate incidents. They were initially arrested to ‘prevent a breach of the peace’ under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Later, when at the Bishopsgate Police Station, all three were arrested on ‘suspicion of conspiracy to commit threatening behaviour’.
The police used undue force when arresting Dr Shao Jiang who, whilst standing on his own in the road with two A4 sized placards calling for human rights for the people of China, was tackled to the ground by more than five police officers. Footage of his arrest was very clearly filmed and has been shown on the BBC, Channel 4 and other media outlets.
A little later, Sonam Choden and Jamphel Lhamo, were arrested for attempting to wave a Tibetan flag at the passing cavalcade of cars.
Mr Bill Nash from BSB solicitors who represents the two Tibetan women has said that, “in 40 years of legal experience I have never heard of police arresting peaceful protesters for conspiring to contravene Section 5 of the Public Order Act<http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/64/section/5>, which concerns harassment or threatening behaviour.”
Two days earlier, during the procession on The Mall to welcome Xi Jinping, many human rights protestors were completely swamped by thousands of Chinese students who surrounded, harassed and intimidated anyone who raised a placard or Tibetan flag. The police stood by and did nothing to protect the protestors from such threatening behaviour.
This was evident from a letter published in The Independent from Carole Beavis from Derbyshire. Carole, who had come to London to support groups campaigning for Tibet and human rights in China, spoke of her shock at, “the scale and level of organisation of the Chinese “welcome” that accompanied the President’s every move”.
When she took her Tibetan flag outside of the cordon she was, “subjected to aggressive bullying by Chinese men carrying huge flags which they used to cover and hide ours. We then had the attention of the Chinese dragon dancers, whilst the drummers and cymbal-bashers crashed next to our ears in an effort to intimidate us and drown out our legitimate voices.”
She filmed the noisemakers and, “was singled out by three official-looking Chinese men, who effectively herded me away from the event and lowered my arm holding the camera. I stood next to a policeman and told him I felt threatened, and they immediately backed off but stood a short distance away taking photos of the demonstrators, including me.”
This eyewitness account about the lack of response to protect legitimate peaceful protestors from orchestrated intimidation only adds to my concerns over the validity of the arrests of Dr Shao Jiang, Sonam Choden and Jamphel Lhamo, and raises serious questions over the even-handedness of the police approach.
I also have many questions over the decision to raid the homes of the three persons arrested and would ask how this decision can be justified.
Dr Shao Jiang, Sonam Choden and Jamphel Lhamo have been arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. There is no inference of any potential violent act being prevented. Had this been the case they would have been arrested under Section 4 of the Public Order Act (unlawful violence).
To raid people’s homes, seize their computers and other electronic equipment for alleged breach of the peace, is unwarranted and borders on a violation of privacy. To send eight police officers to one home, five to another and use keys taken from one of those arrested to enter his home is, I believe, disproportionate. Moreover it is a very questionable use of police time and resources.
Answers need to be given to questions posed by Dr Shao Jiang and his wife Johanna Zhang when they say, “We would like to know more about the decision-making process that led to both the arrest and the seizure of our computers. We would also like to know when our computers will be returned.”
Testimony from Johanna, Shao Jiang’s wife.
"I was deeply distressed when I returned home to find that New Scotland Yard had been in our flat and had taken not only Shao Jiang’s laptop but also my laptop and iPad. I am an artist and a translator and depend upon my computer to work.
"My husband did nothing more than exercise the right to freedom of speech which is a bulwark of British society. In China, he would not be allowed to do this and he has already undergone 18 months imprisonment for his peaceful activism. The search of our home and the manner of his arrest was deeply traumatic for both of us because of its obvious resonances.
"We would like to know more about the decision-making process that led to both Shao’s arrest and the seizure of our computers. We would also like to know when our computers will be returned. A phone number was left in our flat together with a copy of the warrant but when I called this number the next morning it was the wrong number. We are discussing with our lawyer the possibility of further legal action but we wanted to raise this with you now as a matter of urgency".
Film clips of Shao Jiang’s arrest
Quotes by MPs in Independent article
Tim Farron (Liberal Democrat leader): “The right to protest peacefully is an intrinsically British value that underpins our democracy. The police’s heavy-handed response undoubtedly will leave some questioning our commitment to human rights and I would urge the Home Secretary to take this up directly with the Metropolitan Police.”
Ann Clwyd (Chair, all-party group on human rights): “Peaceful protest is something we take as a given in the United Kingdom.” She also said she would raise the case with the Home Secretary, Theresa May.
Carole Beavis’s letter to The Independent
Tibetan Community press release
Section 5 of the Public Order Act: