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Tough tactics contain dissent

August 17, 2008

By Mure Dickie
The Financial Times
August 14 2008

At a time when Beijing is anxious to keep international attention
focused on the sporting action in its stunning new Olympic stadiums,
it was probably not the smartest of moves for police to rough up a
British tele-vision journalist as he tried to cover a pro-Tibet protest.

John Ray, China correspondent for ITV News, said he was left slightly
bruised and a "bit shaken" after being pushed to the ground, dragged
through a restaurant and detained by police near the Olympic Park -yesterday.

"Otherwise I'm in good shape but I wonder how this fits with their
solemn promise of free and unrestricted reporting," Mr Ray said, a
reference to Beijing's rep-eated pledges to give international media
a free hand to cover China during the Olympic Games.

Yet while the tough tactics used on Mr Ray were bad PR, the
authorities' handling of the protest, during which overseas activists
unfurled banners calling for Tibetan independence, was part of a
broad and, so far, relatively successful campaign to prevent displays
of dissent from marring the games.

The detention, jailing and cowing of local political and social
activists and the speedy seizing and deportation of foreign activists
have made it highly difficult for critics to use Beijing's hosting of
the Olympics as an opportunity to draw attention to their complaints.

And, as Mr Ray's case suggests, authorities do not appear willing to
allow past Olympic pledges to stop them disrupting the work of
international media when it comes to politically sensitive issues
such as the restive western regions of Tibet or Xinjiang.

Beijing police declined to comment on the treatment of Mr Ray. The
International Olympic Committee said it would investigate the
incident, but said the "media must be free to report on the Olympic Games".

The rough handling of Mr Ray will no doubt win greater exposure for
the protest he was trying to cover, the latest in a series by the
campaign Students for a Free Tibet. But security officials were able
to seize the group's eight activists quickly, so that few Beijingers
had the chance to see their banners.

Officials have adopted an even tougher approach towards potential
domestic dissent, setting up special Olympic protest zones and then
detaining people who seek permission to use them.

Ji Sizun, a legal activist, was detained after he asked to hold a
demonstration calling for wider participation in China's political
process, according to US-based Human Rights Watch, adding that other
applicants had been harassed or expelled from Beijing.

Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident, has been imprisoned for a month after
she requested permission to protest against the demolition of her
home. "We have not been able to make contact with her at all for
days," a relative of Ms Zhang's said yesterday.

Mark Allison, east Asia researcher for Amnesty International, says
that while some foreign leaders have spoken out on human rights
issues, few have publicly raised specific cases before the Beijing
games. "It's been quite disappointing," says Mr Allison.
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