Chinese authorities have sentenced eight Americans to 10 days of administrative detention in Beijing for "disrupting public order," according to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The Americans were all members of groups that support Tibetan independence.
U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt, Jr., pressed the Chinese government Saturday to immediately release all eight Americans.
China says the detainees had "disrupted public and social order," which is against Chinese law, and it is "only natural" that they be jailed.
"The protestors were chanting for the independence of Tibet, which has been part of China for centuries," the spokesman said. "There is no doubt that such activities violate Chinese law."
Reporters Without Borders, a free press activist group, said at least two of those detained were bloggers covering the events who were only taking photos, not participating in the protest.
Throughout the Beijing Games there have been numerous protests on behalf of Tibet, but this is the first time American citizens have been detained for longer than one day, according to a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, who added that Embassy officials have met the detainees Friday and say they are being treated well.
The U.S State Department released a statement encouraging the government of China to "demonstrate respect for human rights including freedom of expression and freedom of religion of all people" during the Olympic Games and beyond.
"These rights are protected by China's own constitution and by international human rights standards to which China has agreed," according to the statement.
Six of the Americans were members of the group Free Tibet Reporters. James Powderly, Brian Conley, Jeffrey Rae, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss, and Tom Grant were detained August 19th, according to the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing.
On August 21st, two more American were detained, both of them members of Students for a Free Tibet. Jeremy Wells and John Watterberg were detained for hanging a banner near an Olympic venue.
Usually the Embassy cannot comment on U.S. citizens detained abroad, but the eight Americans in detention gave the Embassy permission to release their names.
The Embassy also received a report that two other photographers covering the protest on August 19th were detained for several hours and the memory cards from their cameras were erased.
Students for a Free Tibet said they were the eighth group to be arrested in Beijing since the start of the Olympic Games. 47 pro-Tibet activists have been arrested during the Games so far, according to Reporters Without Borders.
A spokesman at the Beijing Embassy in Washington said that China has written a bylaw stating that foreigners visiting China should respect and follow relevant Chinese laws, just as foreigners in the United States are supposed to do. Chinese laws ban activities instigating separation of the country's territories.
The spokesman said that the Americans detained had disrupted public and social order by willfully conducting demonstrations in public places without prior application or approval.
"It's only natural, justifiable, and lawful for the relevant Chinese department to handle these cases according to Chinese laws," the spokesman said.