Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was one of scores of people detained by police as yesterday’s parading of the Olympic torch through the streets of London descended into chaos.
Despite hundreds of police officers deployed on the streets there were repeated attempts to stop the 31-mile procession, as campaigners vented their anger at China’s actions in Tibet and its wider record on human rights.
At one point a man almost succeeded in grabbing the lit torch, the symbol of the Games to be held in Beijing this summer, out of the hands of TV presenter Konnie Huq.
Others tried to extinguish the flame with a fire extinguisher.
“The bus bearing the Olympic torch was today ambushed outside
Selfridges department store in Oxford Street, London, by gay human
rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage!” he said in a statement.
“Mr Tatchell ran in front of the bus carrying the Olympic flame. He
held up a placard which read: “Free Tibet, Free Hu Jia.”
“He shouted the same words as he ran along in front of the bus.
“The police wrestled Mr Tatchell to the ground, which delayed the bus briefly while he was removed to pavement.
“After questioning, he was later released without charge.”
The veteran campaigner was protesting about the treatment of Hu Jia, an activist for free speech, Tibetan autonomy, environmental protection, and for the human rights of the rural poor and people with HIV.
He was jailed for three and half years last week.
“Hi Jia is a truly heroic figure, who has shown immense foresight,
determination and bravery,” said Mr Tatchell.
He has kept campaigning, even though he knew it would put him at risk of arrest, torture and imprisonment.
“He exposed the Chinese government’s cover up of the use of HIV
contaminated blood, the lack of support and care for people with HIV, and he challenged social prejudice and discrimination against people with the virus.”
37 people were arrested during yesterday’s torch procession.
Met police commander Bob Broadhurst denied the police acted in a heavy-handed fashion against protesters.
“The bottom line is, before this event, a number of groups came to us and asked if they could lawfully protest,” he told the BBC.
“We allowed that. We did tell some of them that because of the numbers and because of the locations they would be behind barriers for their own safety.”
The Olympic torch was lit at Olympia in Greece last week and will visit 20 countries before the Beijing Games opening ceremony on 8th August.
The Prime Minister welcomed it to Downing St yesterday, as the Lib Dem leader called for a political boycott of the 2008 Games.
“I urge you to reconsider your participation in this event and indeed any future events to mark the Beijing Games, including the opening ceremony,” Nick Clegg said in a letter to Gordon Brown.
“Recent events in Tibet, broken promises over media freedoms, ongoing human rights abuses and intransigence over the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur demand a response.
“Serious concerns cannot be swept under the carpet for the sake of ceremonial duties.”
London will host the Olympics in 2012.