Tashi Tsering (札西慈仁), an exiled Tibetan with a Taiwanese passport, returned to Taiwan to a hero’s welcome yesterday after being detained in Japan for over 20 days over his protest during the Nagano leg of the Olympic torch relay last month.
On April 26, Tashi, the vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress’ Taiwan chapter, ran over to police and attempted to approach the torch while shouting, “Free Tibet.”
Police immediately arrested him under the charge of forcible disruption of business.
Tashi was then detained at the Nagano Central Police Station — first for 48 hours, but two extensions totaling 20 days followed.
Finally, the court decided to release him after he paid a fine of ¥500,000 (US$4,797).
Prior to Tashi’s arrival yesterday, Tibetans and Tibet support group members gathered inside the Terminal 2 arrival hall at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
They held a banner that read “welcome back, Tibetan hero,” and some brought bouquets of flowers and khatas — traditional silk scarves that Tibetans use to greet or show respect to someone.
As soon as Tashi walked out of the customs area, his friends rushed to shower him with gifts and hugs.
“I’m very grateful for all the help everyone — in Taiwan and in Japan alike — has given to me,” Tashi told those who were there to welcome him.
“I know many groups and individuals in Taiwan have worked hard to get me out of detention,” he continued. “I received hundreds of letters from people everywhere that gave me support and encouragement — I’m really grateful for it.”
Besides efforts by Tibet supporters and human rights groups in Taiwan, the Tibet Support Network Japan also helped to raise donations to pay for the fine and his flight ticket back to Taiwan, a Taiwan Friends of Tibet member on the scene said.
Tashi also explained why he decided to go over the police line to protest.
“I didn’t plan to do it at first,” he said.
“But I kept hearing Chinese there making humiliating comments about Tibet and the Dalai Lama — they even called him a madman,” Tashi said, bursting into tears. “So I just felt that I couldn’t take it anymore, and wanted to speak out.”
Tashi said he felt sorry for bringing the Japanese police so much trouble.
“I’m not opposed to the Olympics, I just wanted to seize the opportunity to tell the world about the terrifying conditions in Tibet,” he said.
Tashi’s family fled to India after China invaded Tibet in the 1950s. However, many of their friends and relatives remained in Tibet and were killed by the Chinese.
Although born in India, Tashi said that he always feels emotionally attached to Tibet.
“Tibetan independence is the dream of my parents, and I will strive to fulfill that dream,” he said.