UVM Alum deported from China for Tibet protest

A recent UVM graduate and student activist took one of his causes onto an international stage in August, working with the organization Students for a Free Tibet to unroll a massive banner in Beijing during this summer’s Olympic Games.

Sam Maron, a 22-year-old from Ossining, N.Y. who graduated from UVM in May, was detained and deported along with four other activists after staging the pro-Tibet action.

Maron was one of three Americans working as a support team for two other activists who rappelled down an Olympic billboard to unveil a 400 square-foot banner reading ‘Free Tibet’ in both English and Mandarin.

According to a statement on the Students for a Free Tibet website, the banner drop took place at 5:45 a.m. on August 15th onto a billboard in front of the headquarters for CCTV, the state-run television network.

Maron said that thirty minutes after the banner was displayed, Chinese police arrived and removed all five protestors from the billboard.

“The banner was up for about thirty minutes during which a number of the media were able to do interviews with us. Within a few minutes, police had started to arrive and within fifteen minutes they started to get us down onto the ground,” said Maron, “We were put into a police van and taken to a station where we were questioned.”

Neither Maron nor any of the other four protestors reported maltreatment during their interactions with the Chinese police. Maron said that within six hours of his detainment, he and the other activists were placed on planes and deported back to their home countries.

The Chinese government has been under increasing criticism from democratic nations for their limitations on individual liberties. The government’s mistreatment of dissenters has been especially harsh in Tibet, a formerly independent country which China has occupied since 1950.

“I think these types of crackdowns on basic freedoms leave a negative taste in people’s mouths,” Maron said, “People believe in everyone’s rights to free expression and to free protest.”

Instead of placing emphasis on his detention and deportation from China, Maron said that “[his] treatment and detention is nothing compared to what Tibetans face in protesting.”

Maron became interested in the Free Tibet movement after seeing the Dalai Lama speak in Central Park five years ago. During his time in Vermont, Maron founded the UVM chapter of SFT and was the head of the Student Labor Action Project, where he worked for livable wages for university employees.

Since graduating last spring with a degree in Community and International Development, Maron has worked as an intern for Students for a Free Tibet at their headquarters in New York City.

“What gives me the passion are the images and stories of Tibetans constantly calling out for freedom,” said Maron, “Hearing those stories, you know just how important these things are for them. How passionate they are is what inspires me to do what I can for those who are not allowed to speak out.”

When asked about his years of activism at UVM, Maron maintained that it takes all kinds of action to improve the world.

His protest in Beijing was just as important as student activism around campus, Maron said.

“They are two parallels,” said Maron, “We need to do the bigger high profile actions but we also need to do the nitty-gritty stuff and work on the local level. The worst thing you can do is stay silent in the face of the injustices. Never give up, even when it seems hopeless; there will be losses but there will also be victories.”

“We were incredibly successful in sending a message of truth to the world,” Maron said.