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Protecting free speech in Tibet - and London

April 6, 2008

Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
05/04/2008


Two thousand police officers are being drafted on to the streets of
London to control the Olympic torch relay tomorrow, at an estimated cost
of £1 million in wages. Is that a proportionate response? It depends on
the nature of the threatened disruption by Free Tibet campaigners and
other human rights activists.

The police should ensure that any anti-Chinese protest stays within the
law. That means, obviously, that no one must be assaulted, and that the
runners are physically unimpeded from carrying the torch.

Does this require the presence of 2,000 officers, including air and
marine support? We are sceptical.
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If the simple prevention of crime is the objective, then the scale of
the operation implies that the Met is expecting violent protest on an
alarming scale. But could other considerations have come into play?

China has warned the Government that, if the eight-hour procession is
"hijacked by politics", London could lose its chance of staging its own
torch tour in 2012. It looks as if Sir Ian Blair will make sure that
China's wishes are respected.

That word "politics" conveys so much. For Beijing, the future of Tibet
is a matter of internal politics. Most Tibetans disagree, but China has
at least held this opinion for hundreds of years.

However, Beijing also takes the view that its savage repression of human
rights is a matter of "politics", and that allowing demonstrators to
vent their anger in London reflects unpardonable bad manners by the
Government.

That bogus argument has influenced ministers in the past. In 1999, when
Jiang Zemin rode up the Mall, protesters were stopped by police from
holding up Tibetan flags.

As this newspaper reported: "Those who voiced anti-Chinese sentiments
found themselves moved on." That must not happen tomorrow. It is the job
of the police to prevent violence, not to protect China from richly
deserved public embarrassment.
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