Peter Tatchell, the British gay human rights campaigner, was detained by police in London on Saturday as the Olympic torch was controversially paraded through the capital on its way to Beijing. He was held for a short time before being released with a warning.
Mr. Tatchell was protesting the recent arrest and imprisonment of Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia, an Aids activist working in China’s gay community, who was convicted for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ and sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment.
Hu Jia also campaigned for free speech, Tibetan autonomy, environmental protection, and for the human rights of the rural poor.
It was in Oxford Street outside Selfridges that Mr. Tatchell jumped in front of the slow-moving VIP bus accompanying the torch. He jumped into the road carrying a placard which read: “Free Tibet; Free Hu Jia” – and shouting the same words.
Mr. Tatchell later pointed out to reporters that the arrest of Hu Jia is proof “that China is not fulfilling its human rights commitments which were part of the deal for them to get the Olympics.”
“At the very least, world leaders should boycott the opening ceremony and athletes should wear Tibetan flags when they go on the podium to receive their medals,” he suggested.
In a statement following the incident, Mr. Tatchell said:
“Hu Jia exposed the Chinese government’s cover up of the use of HIV contaminated blood, the lack of support and care for people with HIV, and he challenged social prejudice and discrimination against people with the virus.
“Hi Jia is a truly heroic figure, who has shown immense foresight, determination and bravery. He has kept campaigning, even though he knew it would put him at risk of arrest, torture and imprisonment.
“In jail, Hu Jia is likely to be mistreated, denied medical treatment for his hepatitis B infection and starved of proper food.
“Gordon Brown has shamed himself and Britain by greeting the Olympic torch at Downing Street, at a time when China is shooting dead Tibetan protesters and jailing and torturing hundreds of political prisoners,” added Mr Tatchell.
“It is hypocritical for the Prime Minister to boycott the Zimbabwean regime, but not the dictatorial regime in China. These double standards bring our government into disrepute,” said Mr. Tatchell.