(TibetanReview.net, Nov18’22) – A Greek court has on Nov 17 acquitted on all charges two activists, including a Tibetan, who had been detained on Oct 17, 2021 after they unfurled banners at the Athens Acropolis to express their opposition to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, said media reports Nov 17, citing their lawyers and activists. Three others, including a Tibetan, face trial on Dec 1 for disrupting the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Athens on Nov 18, 2021.
The landmark decision, delivered by a three-member tribunal, has been described as a victory for human rights defenders globally, noted theguardian.com Nov 17. A public prosecutor had only minutes earlier pressed for a guilty verdict.
“This is a huge victory for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest in Europe,” Michael Polak, a barrister at the legal aid group Justice Abroad who had flown in from London for the hearing, has said. “It is also a huge win for the Tibetan and Hong Kong people.”
While Chinese authorities have previously acted in the belief that they could extend their repression against ethnic and religious groups around the world, Polak has said, “the acquittals today will send a strong message that legitimate peaceful protests and assembly, of the type banned totally in China and Hong Kong, will be allowed even when it hurts the fragile sensibilities of the Beijing and Hong Kong regimes”.
The activists had faced up to five years in prison if convicted of a charge viewed as a serious crime under Greek law, the report noted.
Those acquitted were 19-year-old Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang and 22-year-old Hong Kong-American Joey Siu.
They were arrested in Athens on Oct 17, 2021 as they chanted “Boycott Beijing 2022”, hung a Tibetan flag and a “Free Tibet” and another banner in support of freedom in Hong Kong from a scaffolding surrounding part of the Acropolis. The protest took place hours before a dress rehearsal of the torch-lighting ceremony for the Games in Greece’s Olympia, site of the ancient Olympics.
They were accused of attempting to pollute, damage, and distort a historical monument and faced up to five years in prison.
The following day, three other activists, including Ms Chemi Lhamo, a Canadian-Tibetan student – besides a Briton and an American – were detained and held in police custody after they briefly disrupted the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony at Olympia, including with the display of a large Tibetan flag and a banner, in protest against China holding the Games.
They too were charged with attempting to pollute, damage and distort a historical monument after waving a Tibetan flag in front of Chinese officials attending the celebration. A trial was set for Dec 1 after it was postponed in February amid accusations of proceedings being delayed to avoid embarrassing China on the eve of the Games.
In both incidents, the activists maintained that they were protesting against the usurpation of Olympic symbols for propaganda purposes by a regime not only responsible for the oppression of Uyghur people that even a much-criticised UN report said may amount to crimes against humanity, but also the crackdown of freedom of expression in Hong Kong and brutal repression of Tibetans.
Rights groups had feared the outcome was far from certain, citing China’s role as a major investor in Greece; but during the hearing, the country’s leading human rights lawyer, Alexis Anagnostakis, defended the pair, arguing that similar protests at the Acropolis and other historic sites in Europe had never before been prosecuted under “the unfounded charge” of attempting to destroy a monument, the report said.
“It was a great day for human rights’ activists in Tibet, Hong Kong and around the globe, and although it was a highly politically sensitive case, in the end it was justice and the rule of law that have prevailed,” Reuters quoted Anagnostakis as saying.