Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Detained in Beijing, journalist talks about his ordeal

August 28, 2008

By Robert Moran, Staff writer
Phily.com
August 26, 2008

Brian Conley, an independent journalist from West Philadelphia, knew
he was taking a risk when he traveled to China to make videos of
pro-Tibet protests during the Olympics.

The 28-year-old video blogger figured he might get caught, detained
briefly, then be deported.

Well, he and five other Americans affiliated with the group Students
for a Free Tibet got arrested.

But after a 22-hour, on-and-off interrogation, he was taken to jail
far from the middle of Beijing and given an inmate's uniform.

"I realized, we're here for a while," said Conley today in a
telephone interview from New York.

He was freed Sunday after six days behind bars.

The Chinese government had set-up special zones for people who wanted
to demonstrate during the Olympic games, but no one had their
applications approved. Two Chinese women in their late 70s were
sentenced to a year of "re-education through labor" for applying too
many times.

Critics have accused China of human-rights abuses in Tibet, which has
been under a police and paramilitary crackdown since riots in March.

A member of Students for a Free Tibet asked Conley whether he would
like to document pro-Tibet protests during the Olympics.

Conley has gained notice for his video blog called
www.aliveinbaghdad.org, which has Iraqis recording everyday life.

Conley agreed to go to China and was joined by Jeffrey Rae, a New
York photographer who is originally from Wayne. They arrived in
Beijing on Aug. 10 and checked into the Bo Tai Hotel.

Until the night of Aug. 18, they had only documented one of the many
unauthorized Tibet protests. That night, they met at a bar and were
planning to record a second when Conley fell ill and went back to the
hotel room he shared with Rae.

Late that night or shortly after midnight, there was knocking on the
door. It was the police. "I was told at the time they were
investigating alleged threats against foreigners by other foreigners
and by Chinese people," Conley recalled.

The police took everything Conley and Rae had in the room. After some
driving around, Conley was taken to a nearby hotel and held in a
conference room.

They kept asking: "Why are you in Beijing? What are you doing here?
Who sent you here?"

He kept replying that he was a tourist. He acknowledged recording a
protest but said he just happened to be there when it occurred.

At one point, they returned his mobile phone. The questioning was not
continuous. A few times, the police fell asleep.

Conley was able to text his wife, Eowyn Rieke, 38, who is due to have
their first child in October.

"In jail. All fine," it read.

And so he thought. When Conley was finally removed from the
conference, he saw that Rae and his other associates were also being held.

They were put in a van and Conley thought they were being sent to the
airport. Instead, they went the other direction.

He was taken to a jail, asked to provide medical information and was
given an inmate outfit. He was then put in a cell with nine other
prisoners: Two were Chinese; the rest were from around the world.

Conley characterized them as either visa violators or petty thieves.
He said one Korean had been in jail for four months with no date for
when he would be released.

He was interrogated several more times. He and the others were
accused of having fake visas and promoting public disorder. For that,
they were sentenced to 10 days of detention.

On the final day of the Olympic games, Conley and the others were
released early.

But not before Conley was smacked around for flashing a middle finger
to a police officer taking his photograph at the airport. He said the
police had repeatedly taken his picture and he was tired of it.

He couldn't afford the $1,800 ticket to Los Angeles that he was
required to purchase, but luckily, Rae was able to buy it for him.
The six were joined on the flight by two other Americans detained for
being involved in similar protests.

"My experience in China prior to that was great. Everyone was being
friendly," he said. "But it was all kind of an illusion."

Conley said his treatment in China was "further indication of why I
need to do this work."

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

 

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank