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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."

Tibet protester Lucy Fairbrother took on the might of China - and won

August 11, 2008

Here she explains how...
By Polly Dunbar
The Daily Mail
August 9, 2008

Alone and thousands of miles from  the comforts of her cosy £1million
middle-class home in genteel Cambridge, Lucy Fairbrother bit her lip
and trembled as the Chinese police interrogators bore down on her and
started bawling in her face.

'Who is your ringleader... who paid for you to come here?' they demanded.

During a 12-hour ordeal Lucy was subjected to a torrent of hundreds
of questions, shuddering as a policeman's fist thudded, again and
again, on to the top of the table she was sitting at, and being
warned that her refusal to co-operate would land her in deep trouble.

At one stage a woman interrogator was brought in and, after another
barrage of questions, screamed at Lucy: 'Are you plotting with the Dalai Lama?'

Safely home: Lucy Fairbrother back in London last week

Yet the shy 23-year-old Classics graduate refused to crack --
confident in the knowledge that this panic-stricken reaction by the
Beijing authorities only proved that the spectacularly audacious –
yet typically British – protest she had helped stage on the eve of
the Olympics opening ceremony had been a complete success.

Ultimately, her punishment was deportation -- but she left in her
wake huge embarrassment for the Chinese authorities by highlighting
the Tibetan cause and also raised doubts about their reassurances
that security around the Olympic venues had been strengthened amid
fears of a possible terror attack.

Sitting opposite her in a London hotel, it is immediately obvious
that Lucy Fairbrother is not your average political activist.

With her slight frame, impeccable manners and quiet, well spoken
tones, she appears so non-confrontational she would struggle to ask
for sugar in her tea.

Yet last week, with the eyes of the world upon her, Lucy, along with
three other demonstrators, managed to make a mockery of security
arrangements at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing and display Tibetan
flags and a banner proclaiming 'One World, One Dream, Free Tibet'
from 120ft-tall lighting poles.

'Of course it was scary, and very surreal -- I wouldn't be human if I
hadn't been scared,' she says calmly in her first in-depth interview
about the protest. 'Being separated from my friends and shouted at
again and again by agitated Chinese police who banged hard on the
table in front of me when I wouldn't answer was not an experience
anyone would enjoy. But overall, the protest was fantastically
successful. It gained us more attention than we could possibly have
dreamed of, so I'd repeat it in a heartbeat.'

For Lucy, a highly articulate and thoughtful young woman, this week's
protest was the culmination of a passion for Tibet and its people
which first manifested itself when she was a teenager. It is a
passion that has been encouraged by her parents, Linda, 58, a
journalist, and Jeremy, 69, a retired former director of Barings bank
and bursar of Trinity College, Cambridge. Indeed, they instilled a
belief in activism in her and her siblings, Edmund, 19, and Laura, 24.

Lucy says: 'Both my parents believe in standing up for what they
believe in and from a very early age I was taught to question the
world, think critically and then try to do what I can to change
things. At our house, there were always newspapers around and every
mealtime led to a lively debate. We had it drummed into us that we
were very fortunate but that others elsewhere in the world were not
and that if we could help, we should.

'My mum runs media training courses for student activists and knows a
lot of my activist friends.'

As a child, Lucy went to the exclusive Leys School in Cambridge but
switched to a local sixth-form college to do A-levels – and it was at
Hills Road College that she discovered the pressure group Students
for a Free Tibet.

Pole position: Lucy's fellow protester Iain Thom unfurls their banner

'I've always been interested in world politics, but the Tibetan cause
captured my attention more than anything else.

'When I first learned about the terrible abuses of human rights by
the Chinese government in Tibet I felt I had to help. Through the
group I met Tibetans who told me about the destruction of the
monasteries and temples, the Tibetans imprisoned and tortured and the
lack of basic freedoms.

'Before I went to university I spent 15 days in Tibet, and thought it
was the most beautiful country I had ever visited. I found the people
very inspiring – dignified and committed to non-violence, but very
strong, too.'

At Bristol University, Lucy ran her own group named Coalition for
Tibet, through which she organised demonstrations in front of the
Chinese Embassy in London, marches, speaking tours for victims of
oppression and parties to celebrate Tibetan culture.

After graduating she moved to London and found freelance work as a
researcher and a web designer. She continued her activism and, like
many others, realised that the impending Olympics would be the ideal
time to draw attention to the Tibetan cause.

She says: 'I really hoped that the Olympics would force China to stay
true to its promises to clean up its human rights records, because it
would be in the world's spotlight. I hoped that Tibet would benefit from that.

'Unfortunately, it just hasn't happened. The situation in Tibet has
worsened, especially since March, when there were a series of
protests and many people were arrested.'

Deciding that the Chinese authorities were using the Games as a
propaganda opportunity and merely pretending to be in dialogue with
the Dalai Lama, Lucy took part in the protests during the Olympic
torch procession through London – and began to plan the assault on
Beijing itself.

Lucy and three fellow members of Students for a Free Tibet -- Iain
Thom, 24, from Edinburgh, and Americans Phil Bartell, 34, and Tirian
Mink, 32 – spent the past two months planning the action down to the
final detail in hundreds of emails and several phone conversations.

All that remained was to tell her parents -- and she was delighted by
their typically enthusiastic response. 'They weren't surprised at
all, and said they were proud of me, but told me to take care of
myself and come back safely,' she says.

On July 29, Lucy flew to Beijing. 'We carried the material to make
our banners in our luggage, concealed inside jumpers. I was
incredibly nervous as I went through airport security but I wasn't
searched and they let me through fine.'

She and her three co-conspirators travelled separately and then
booked into separate hotels in the Chinese capital. She says: 'We'd
heard that there would be 100,000 plain-clothed informants in the
city and that there would be surveillance cameras everywhere. We were
warned that even our hotel rooms could be bugged, so we avoided
discussing our plans over the phone.

'Instead, we spotted a huge lake with people paddling about on it
using pedalos, so we decided to use the pedalos and have our
discussions in the centre of the lake.' The four each made their
banners in their respective hotel rooms and made several trips to the
Olympic Stadium to discover the best spot to stage their protest.
They settled on two lighting poles outside the 'Bird's Nest' Stadium
and agreed on the date and time: 5.30am on Wednesday, August 6, when
they hoped security would be at its most lax.

Lucy recalls: 'That morning, I felt slightly nervous, but mostly
excited. I couldn't believe we were actually going ahead, after all
the planning.

'We met at the agreed time and Iain and I -- Team GB -- went one way
towards our pole while the Americans went towards theirs.

'When we thought we were safe, Iain started to climb up. My job was
to remain at the bottom, relay information to him via our radios and
try to keep the situation calm when the police inevitably turned up.'

Their tactics took the Chinese completely by surprise and the group
managed to display Tibetan flags and three 140sq ft banners. One
banner parodied the official slogan of the Games, 'One World, One
Dream', by adding 'Free Tibet', while another read 'Tibet will be
free'. But within minutes of Iain climbing the pole, security guards arrived.

Lucy says: 'Almost straight away, we saw security guards using their
walkie-talkies to call for the police.

'A small group of local people had gathered and I chatted to them,
explaining what we were doing. When the police arrived I used one of
the locals, who spoke decent English, to try to reassure them that
our protest was peaceful. I felt very calm, even though there were
about six police cars surrounding us by the end.'

Eventually a fire truck with a cherry-picker platform arrived to get
Iain down but by then he had been up his pole for about an hour and a
half and had even managed to conduct Press interviews using his
mobile phone – ensuring their protest received worldwide attention.

The group of four were taken to a conference centre and put in a room
together. But with a guard standing over each of them, they were
unable to communicate with one another.

Lucy says: 'They asked me who the ringleader was and I didn't feel it
was right to answer as it might endanger one of the others. They
seemed agitated and they took me into another room, on my own. At
that point, I was scared, but I tried to focus on the fact that
whatever was happening to me was nothing compared to what some of my
Tibetan friends had been through.'

Over the next five hours, several different officers asked her
hundreds of questions, some of which she answered and some which she
chose not to.

She says: 'A lot of it was totally surreal. They asked me if I was a
friend of the Dalai Lama, and wanted to know who had paid for my
ticket. It was obvious they thought I was part of some sort of
conspiracy masterminded by him. They asked me where I had got my
opinions from regarding Tibet.

'At times, a woman was interrogating me and shouting in my face. At
others, it was a man who banged hard on the desk in front of me if I
didn't answer. They kept telling me that my friends had told them
what they wanted to know and it was only me who was being difficult
so I would find myself in a lot of trouble.

'I was becoming more and more exhausted, but held my nerve and just
waited for it to be over. Eventually, they took me back to the others.

'When we compared notes, it seemed I had been treated worst --
perhaps because I'm a woman and they were hoping I'd crack and tell
them something by mistake. We were held for another few hours, all
together, before Iain and I were escorted to the airport and on to a
plane to Frankfurt. By that point, we were very relieved to be going home.'

When the pair made it back to London the following day, the reception
they received was overwhelming. Not only did they find themselves at
the centre of a media storm, but many of Lucy's friends – including
some Tibetan ones – and her mother and sister had turned out to
welcome her home.

'My mum gave me a big hug and told me she was really proud,' she
says. 'It was then that I felt elated. I'd really done it and managed
to get all this attention too. It was amazing.'

Now, Lucy hopes that despite the security, some other brave
protesters will seize the opportunity provided by the Olympics to
continue to drive home the Tibetan message. 'If we could do it, I'm
sure someone else will be able to,' she says. 'I'll be watching avidly.'

And then, with typical British humility, this most unlikely activist
says: 'Now I can't wait to go back to obscurity.'
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