Following the demands of US officials, eight Americans who were detained during the Olympics were released and deported today, according to a group that supports Tibetan independence.
Chinese authorities sentenced the Americans to 10 days of administrative detention last week, saying 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," a Chinese Embassy spokesman told ABC News from Washington. "There is no doubt that such activities violate Chinese law."
Today, Students for Free Tibet welcomed the news of their release, but speculated that it was part of a Chinese effort to avoid bad press.
"After two days of negative publicity over its extrajudicial detention of ten Tibet supporters, the Chinese government is seeking to suppress a story that would have cast a shadow over the closing ceremony of these Olympic Games," said Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet.
"The Beijing Olympics have become synonymous with overt Chinese government propaganda, heavy-handed security and intolerance of any form of protest or dissent. In the lead up to and during the Olympic Games, hundreds of Chinese have been placed under house arrest, have disappeared or suffer in re-education-through-labor camps since being swept up in an Olympics crackdown on human rights advocates and others Beijing considers 'undesirables'," said Tethong.
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. Two Britons who were also detained are still being held, according to Students for a Free Tibet.
Throughout the Beijing Games there have been numerous protests on behalf of Tibet, but this was the first time American citizens had been detained for longer than one day, according to a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, who added that Embassy officials met the detainees Friday and say they were being treated well.
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.
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.