Alive in Baghdad's Brian Conley and five other Americans were arrested in Beijing during the Olympics. New media helped free them.
Eowyn Rieke was asleep in her West Philly apartment when she got the text message from her husband: "In jail. All fine."
It would be morning before Rieke, then 31 weeks pregnant, would read the message. By then the world was already aware of her husband's arrest and detainment in Beijing, news of which broke in the blogosphere and spread to mainstream outlets in a matter of hours.
Brian Conley, 28, a Philadelphia-based independent journalist and founder of the popular video blog Alive in Baghdad, was feeling ill and resting in his room at the Bo Tai Hotel in Beijing on Aug. 19 when he heard an aggressive knock on the door.
"Hang on," he said, assuming it was his suitemate and friend Jeffrey Rae.
"Sir, please open up," said a Chinese-accented voice after a third knock. "It's the police."
Conley let the officers in, and they quickly confiscated his camera equipment and phone. He was driven to the Dong Chen Hotel, where he was interrogated for 22 hours about his visit to China. He was then taken to the Chong Wen District detention center.
The van pulled up to the building in the middle of the night. "It could've been a college dorm," says Conley. "It was nondescript." He was put into a holding cell with about 11 other inmates, each of whom had a wooden bed.
Conley was one of six Americans arrested on Aug. 19 for recording and uploading images of pro-Tibet demonstrations outside the Olympic games. The group of detainees--Conley; Jeffrey Rae of Wayne, Pa.; and New Yorkers James Powderly, Michael Liss, Tom Grant and Jeff Goldin--was quickly branded the "Beijing 6" on pro-Tibet activist blogs. They were all sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention for "upsetting public order."
"I'm not sure how they knew where to find Brian," says Rae, who was already in police custody when Conley was apprehended. "But most likely they saw he was staying in the same room as me."
|Pro-Tibet protestors lock bikes in Ethnic Park, Beijing, China on Aug. 13, 2008. (Photo by Jeffrey Rae)|
Once in custody, the six were aggressively questioned about their activities and reasons for being in China. Their cell phones, laptops and photographic equipment were seized, except for those of Rae, who refused to give them his passwords. He even lied, telling them iPhones don't have SIM cards in the U.S.
Other non-Chinese people were arrested for protest-related activities during the Olympics as well, but most of them were released or immediately deported. Conley asked Chinese authorities why he and his fellow citizen journalists received a harsher punishment.
"They told me it was because I was responsible for distributing images that were damaging to China's image around the world," he says. "The other people just expressed their opinion."
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