BEIJING – The United States says it is disappointed that the Olympics did not bring more "openness and tolerance" in China as the games ended and eight American activists were deported during closing ceremonies.
The blunt U.S. criticism — and China's harsher treatment of foreign activists — came at the end of 17 days of Olympic competition that generally went smoothly for Chinese organizers who had been nervous about security and protests.
No rallies were held throughout the entire Olympics in three parks designated as protest zones after Chinese officials declined to issue permits to 77 applicants, and detained some of them. But mostly foreign activists staged a series of small illegal demonstrations near Olympic venues and at Beijing landmarks.
The foreigners, for the most part, unveiled "Free Tibet" banners before being seized by security officials, hustled into cars and taken away to be put on flights out of China.
A handful journalists trying to cover the protests were roughed up by authorities then released. There were also tensions with the media over China restricting access to the Internet.
Beijing had promised the media freedom to report the games and announced the protest parks as part of efforts to address criticism that China should not have been awarded the games because of its human rights record and tight controls on internal dissent.
The White House said in a statement that eight individuals — James Powderly, Brian Conley, Jeffrey Rae, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss, Tom Grant, Jeremy Wells and John Watterberg — were deported by Chinese authorities at 9 p.m. Sunday Beijing time on a China Air flight to Los Angeles.
Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. had pressed the Chinese government Saturday to immediately release the eight.
"We encourage 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," a U.S. Embassy statement said Sunday.
"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," it said.
In his wrap up news conference Sunday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the games had helped to open up China. But he expressed surprise that no permission had been granted for any protests.
During the games, Beijing organizers were consistently pressed by journalists about people's right to dissent but they routinely deferred comment by trying to focus on sports rather than politics.
In the first week of the games, several foreign protesters were put on flights out the country within days of being detained. But in the final week, at least 10 foreigners were ordered detained for 10 days under rules that allow officials to hold them without charge for up to 14 days.
A U.S. preacher who had waged an unusual protest to demand the release of five Chinese activists turned himself in to Chinese authorities on Sunday, according to his Web site. Pastor Eddie Romero had been in hiding since early August after painting the walls of upscale hotels in Beijing with calls for the activists' release.
It was not immediately possible Monday to confirm whether he was in custody.
The U.S. Embassy released a statement saying it was aware of Romero's purported surrender and that consular officers are working with Chinese authorities to confirm Romero's status and welfare.
"While we do not condone Mr. Romero's method, the U.S. government supports his underlying message that calls for greater freedoms in China," the statement said.
A British and a German demonstrator who had also been detained were to be deported on Monday, authorities from those two countries said.
Rogge said the IOC "found it unusual" that none of applications lodged to hold protests during the games succeeded.
He said IOC officials discussed with games organizers the case of two elderly Chinese women who were ordered to spend a year in a labor camp after applying to protest, though the women were still at home under surveillance. The IOC was told it was a matter of Chinese law.
Several members of another group that sought permission to protest during the games were detained in a room for 48 hours by Chinese authorities before being deported to Hong Kong, group spokesman Xiao Yuzhen said. The group represents businessmen in Hong Kong who wanted to complain about corruption.