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Trial over Olympic protest delayed to avoid embarrassing China, claims activist

Jason Leith said his case had been put back to avoid being in the media spotlight while the games were ongoing.

By Nina Lloyd


A British man awaiting trial in Greece over a protest against the Beijing Olympics has voiced fears that the case has been delayed until after the Games to avoid embarrassment to China

Jason Leith, 34, faces up to five years in jail if convicted of attempting to damage a historical monument after he attended an Olympic flame-lighting ceremony at Olympia in October.

He was one of three activists who waved signs including a Tibetan flag and banners reading “No Genocide games” during the event.

Mr Leith, who works for the Free Tibet movement, said the trio were arrested moments after unfurling the signs and had no plan to cause any damage in the archaeological site.

Their trial was initially set for the eve of the Winter Olympics on February 3, but on Thursday it was adjourned at District Court Pyrgos to December 1.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “We didn’t go with any intention of any destruction and it didn’t happen.

“We went to have our voices heard and to stand with the people whose voices can’t be heard.

“It was probably a minute before we were pushed to the ground by security and police who were at the Olympia.”

The activists, among whom are an American and a Tibetan-Canadian, spent two nights in police custody before being released, their lawyers have said.

“It really feels like there has been outside pressure to try and increase (the) charge to give us actual jail sentences,” Mr Leith said.

“It’s scary. Obviously the thought of spending any amount of time in prison, especially one not in this country, is scary, but at the same time I stand by what I did. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Just before the Olympics, it was likely to be in the media and get a lot of attention. If the trial happens once the Olympics are over, its chances of being noticed are much slimmer

He added that the protest had been against the alleged mistreatment of Uyghur and alleged repression of Tibetan people and the delay to proceedings would mean China suffered less negative attention.

“Just before the Olympics, it was likely to be in the media and get a lot of attention. If the trial happens once the Olympics are over, its chances of being noticed are much slimmer.”

Michael Polak at the legal aid group Justice Abroad, who had flown in from London on behalf of the defendants, said his requests on Thursday for the case to be heard were denied.

“On Thursday, we actually made a request and said, ‘why aren’t you hearing this case?’ and they denied it,” he said.

The court gave no reason for the delay, according to Mr Polak.

“We’d say that this matter is being adjourned so that the court wouldn’t have to give a decision on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.”

China invests heavily in Greece and, at the height of the Greek debt crisis, acquired a majority stake in the strategic port of Piraeus.

“Greece’s government is one of the governments in Europe which is most closely connected to China. It looks very suspicious,” Mr Polak told PA.

A court official said on Friday it would not be commenting on the tribunal’s decision, according to The Guardian.

PA understands the Foreign Office had not been asked for help in Mr Leith’s case as of Friday but stands ready to provide consular assistance if required.

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