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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Briton says China deported her

July 11, 2008

An English teacher of Tibetan ancestry says her visa was in order and
that she has no idea what her offense was. But Beijing is in the
midst of a pre-Olympic crackdown on foreign residents.
By Mark Magnier, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Times
July 10, 2008

BEIJING - As Dechan Pemba left her apartment Tuesday morning, seven
or eight government security officials surrounded her, she says,
including some who apparently had been waiting in her landlord's apartment.

The 30-year-old ethnic Tibetan, a British national who is a part-time
English teacher, tried to explain that she was running late, but they
insisted that she return to her apartment to talk, saying it would
take only 20 minutes.

Instead, the two-year Beijing resident says, they held her for 5½
hours, then she was unceremoniously put aboard an airplane, deported
and told she couldn't return for five years.

Pemba says she repeatedly asked what her offense was, only to be told
that she should know what crime she had committed.

"It's ridiculously paranoid," Pemba said Wednesday by telephone from
London. "I can only speculate on why. It could be anything -- that I
have Tibetan friends, that I have coffee with journalists. I don't
know what they consider illegal."

Her visa was in order, she said, and wasn't set to expire until Nov. 23.

China is in the midst of a widespread crackdown in the final month
before the Olympics, which will start Aug. 8. Pemba's story is a
small pixel in a broader image of people being detained or forced to
leave the country, some of them longtime residents.

The government has said that Tibetans and separatists from the far
western Xinjiang region plan to undermine the Olympics with violent
plots, but critics have accused authorities of fanning fears to
silence even peaceful dissent.

China said Wednesday that police killed five members of an alleged
radical Islamic separatist group, wounded two and arrested eight
others in Xinjiang for plotting to overthrow the state and slaughter
ethnic Chinese.

For most foreigners affected by the stepped-up security, the welcome
mat was rolled up over a period of weeks or months. But Pemba's
short-order ejection is a rarity. She was forced to wrap up her life
and leave within hours, an action reminiscent of treatment the
Chinese government meted out decades ago.

Regulations here are often vague and leave wide latitude for
interpretation. China is particularly concerned with anything related
to Tibet after weeks of riots in March prompted a protracted
crackdown. Even as Beijing has negotiated with the Dalai Lama, the
exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Chinese officials have continued to
condemn him as an evil "splittist."

Pemba is the daughter of exiled Tibetans. She grew up in London,
speaks Tibetan and once worked for a Tibetan rights organization in
Berlin. Her uncle, Tsering Shakya, wrote a well-regarded history,
"The Dragon in the Land of Snows."

Presumably, Beijing knew all of that all along, Pemba said. She
signed her name to the apartment lease, and has never been denied a
visa, even as a visitor in 2004 while working for the Tibetan rights group.

Pemba said the government agents refused her requests to be allowed a
call to the British Embassy as they bundled her off to the airport.
They seized her cellphone, two Tibet books purchased in China and a
"Dreaming Lhasa" T-shirt in Tibetan script.

She was allowed to pack only one bag, whose contents were
scrutinized, and had to leave the rest of her belongings behind. They
also seized her passport, tickets to Olympics rowing and athletics
events and her Chinese bankbook, even demanding her PIN number. Two
security officers videotaped the entire process.

Pemba's account could not be independently verified. Officials at the
Public Security Bureau and Foreign Ministry said they didn't know
about the case or declined to comment.

The British Embassy said Wednesday that it was aware of the case and
had spoken to Pemba but had not been informed of her deportation by
Chinese authorities.

Pemba said she was guarded by six police and other security officers
on a minibus to the airport escorted by two black cars in front and
one behind. All told, she estimates at least 30 people were directly
involved, most in plainclothes.

"It was like they were making a documentary film," Pemba said. "They
were polite, but quite firm and not friendly."

She said she was held at the gate until the last minute, and was the
final passenger allowed to board, at which point they handed back her
cellphone and passport.

Only after she was on board was she able to call her family and the
embassy before the plane took off. She then noticed that they had
looked through her phone messages, she said.

"This is unprecedented, especially without any known motive, and it
required a lot of coordination to repatriate someone that quickly
through immigration, the airline, surveillance," said Nicholas
Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based China researcher with Human Rights Watch.

"As the Olympics approach, the government seems to be more worried
about embarrassment than actual security threats," he said. "We're
seeing a very expansive definition of what's harmful to China."

In April, Pemba said, she was stopped briefly at the airport upon
returning from London. And her apartment was searched in late May,
although she said it was never clear what the police were looking
for, and they did not ask questions or issue any warnings.

Pemba said the authorities declined to give her a copy of her
deportation notice, although they said she would get one later. She
also wonders why they would take her bankbook and PIN number.

"I feel very sad to be leaving my friends behind and worry for the
personal safety of many of my Tibetan friends," she said in an e-mail
to friends sent from London.

"It is an unfortunate way to leave a city that I feel a strong
connection with, having been based there since September 2006.

"I hope that I can go back one day."

mark.magnier@latimes.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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