Protesters describe removal from Tiananmen Square

Aug. 08, 2008, 1:23 a.m. (ET)

LOS ANGELES (AP) Three Americans kicked out of China after protesting in Tiananmen Square said they were treated well by the Chinese government, other than being dragged away, detained for 10 hours and threatened with a lengthy jail stay.

"They bought us Kentucky Fried Chicken and filmed us eating it," the Rev. Patrick Mahoney told The Associated Press after arriving Thursday at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Mahoney was accompanied by Brandi Swindell and Mike McMonagle on the flight from Beijing, where they protested human rights abuses before the start of the Olympics

The three were greeted by supporters after getting off an Air China flight in Los Angeles, ending a long day that began when they were dragged away from a crowded square and detained without access to their cell phones. The travelers were carrying only plastic bags filled with clothes - the rest of their luggage was still in China, they said.

"Right on!" Mahoney said as he raised his fist in the air. "We call for the end of the religious persecution."

The three arrived in China earlier this week and went to Tiananmen Square, where they unfurled a banner that said "Jesus Christ is king," and laid roses on the ground to honor those killed there in the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

Mahoney said uniformed Chinese officers confiscated the banner and escorted them out of the square.

"I asked, 'Are we under arrest?'" Mahoney said. "They said, 'No.' I asked, 'Can we leave?' They said, 'No.'"

During a one-hour interrogation, the activists said they told Chinese officials they intended to return to the square to hold a news conference. When they came back to the square, now filled with journalists and cameramen, they said they were grabbed by security agents and dragged into a van and brought to a police station. While being held for about 10 hours, they said officials disabled their cell phones, revoked their travel visas, demanded that they sign papers and pay $2,000 each for a ticket out of China.

"We didn't do anything wrong. We were speaking up for the Chinese people. We refused to pay," said Mahoney, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian Defense Coalition.

Finally, Chinese officials agreed to pay for the tickets and told the trio they had to leave China immediately or else they'd face an extended jail time, Mahoney said.

His wife, Katie, said in a telephone interview from the couple's home in Virginia she was worried about her husband's safety when she wasn't able to reach him.

"It was very disconcerting" she said. "Let's face it, China doesn't have a very good record on human rights. ... It's very troubling when you don't hear from someone in 24 hours."

Mahoney, Swindell and McMonagle were scheduled to return to their respective homes in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Boise, Idaho, and Philadelphia on Friday.

They said they wanted to raise China's abortion policy and human rights record as the world focuses on the Olympics, but had no intention of spoiling the games.

"We're not opposed to the Olympics or the athletes," Swindell, 31, said.

Also Thursday, two Americans who arrived in San Francisco said they were deported from China after for climbing two poles near the Olympic stadium in Beijing and hung pro-Tibetan slogans.

Phillip Bartell of Boulder, Colorado, and Tirian Mink of Portland, Oregon, told KTVU-TV they were arrested and questioned for about eight hours.

U.S. State Department officials said Chinese authorities informed them of the deportations and were aware of what happened to the protesters.

"We call on China to use the opportunity of the Olympics to demonstrate greater openness and tolerance and to respect the fundamental and universally recognized right of all people to peacefully express their views," department spokesman Gordon Duguid said.

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Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C. contributed to this story.

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