BEIJING — Police detained five American activists Tuesday after they unfurled a "free Tibet" banner near a key Olympics venue in Beijing, according to a pro-Tibet group.
An American graffiti artist, who planned to use laser beams to flash the same message on buildings in the Chinese capital, was also detained, according to a colleague and Students for a Free Tibet.
The five protesters were taken away by security shortly before midnight for displaying the banner, which outlined "free Tibet" in English and Chinese with tiny blue diodes, near the Beijing National Stadium, the group said in a statement.
A spokesman in the news department of Beijing's Municipal Publicity Security Bureau said he was not aware of the protest. He gave only his surname, Li, as is common among officials in China because they are not allowed to discuss sensitive issues with the media.
The group identified the activists as Amy Johnson, 33; Sam Corbin, 24; Liza Smith, 31; Jacob Blumenfeld, 26, and Lauren Valle, 21. Their whereabouts were unknown, the group said.
Earlier in the day, James Powderly, co-founder of Graffiti Research Lab in New York, was also detained as he prepared to use a handheld green laser to project messages on prominent structures in Beijing.
Powderly's colleague, Nathan Dorjee, said in New York that he received a text message from the artist which said he had been detained around 3 a.m. by police.
"He was going to project a message that said, `Free Tibet,' and some other messages that would have been three-stories high in different locations in Beijing," Dorjee said.
Li declined to comment on Powderly's case.
The protests are only the latest instances in which foreign activists were detained after seeking to use the Olympic Games to criticize China for its rule in Tibet, alleging human rights abuses and religious restrictions. Other foreign demonstrators, many of whom also tried to hang "Free Tibet" banners in Beijing, have been quickly picked up and deported.
"The Chinese leadership must realize that the only way it can make the issue of Tibet disappear is to acknowledge the demands of the Tibetan people and work with them to bring an end to China's occupation of Tibet," said Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet in a statement.
China maintains that the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries, while many Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before communist troops invaded in 1950.
Powderly is a well-known New York graffiti artist who projects laser beam "tag" messages onto iconic skyscrapers and other notable structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge. His messages are typically political and often promote freedom of speech and expression.
His projects have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern museum in London.