May 9-15, 2007

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

A Torch on Everest?

Determined to make the International Olympic Committee (IOC) think twice about approving China's plans to run the Olympic torch through Tibet and up Mt. Everest, two North Bay residents were among a group of five protesters recently arrested by Chinese guards, detained for two days and then released. Under the auspices of the activist network Students for a Free Tibet, Shannon Service and Laurel Mac Sutherlin of Sausalito joined Tenzin Dorjee, Jeff Friesen and Kirsten Westby on Wednesday, April 25, at the high-altitude Mt. Everest base camp. While Service videotaped the protest, the group raised a 17-foot banner proclaiming "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008." Clearly visible in the background are the tents of Chinese officials making preparations to carry the torch over Everest before the Olympic games open in China in 2008.

Dorjee, a Tibetan-American making his first visit to Tibet, declares on the videotape, "You can carry the torch to the highest mountain in your own country. Don't come to Tibet. This land doesn't belong to you."

The protesters lit a miniature torch and sang the Tibetan national anthem before Dorjee, Westin, Sutherlin and Service were arrested by Mt. Everest security guards and handed over to Chinese police; Friesen managed to slip away but was arrested the next day. After being made to sign a document apologizing for their actions, the five were released in neighboring Nepal on Friday, April 27, one day after the Organizing Committee for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games officially unveiled the design of its Olympic torch and the route from Greece to China, including Tibet and the summit of Mt. Everest. There has also been controversy about bringing the torch through Taiwan.

The official theme of the torch relay is "Journey of Harmony" under the slogan "Light the Passion, Share the Dream." One of the officials present at the ceremony announcing the route was Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC and chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Beijing games. Speaking about how the torch relay route always evokes the magic of the Olympics, Rogge said, "I have no doubt the Beijing 2008 Olympics Torch Relay will leave many extraordinary memories and create new dreams for people around the world."

Members of Students for a Free Tibet disagree, arguing that allowing China to run the torch through Tibet legitimizes the Chinese military occupation of that Himalayan country. They have vowed that the Mt. Everest protest will be the first of many, and plan to step up their campaign opposing the Chinese presence in Tibet.

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