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China tightens grip on protesters

August 20, 2008

'Protest pens' have been empty. Those who have sought permission to
demonstrate have been detained or harassed.
Peter Ford, Staff writer
The Christian Science Monitor (USA)
August 18, 2008

Beijing -- Mr. Hai is the only Chinese citizen to have successfully
staged a protest in Beijing during the current Olympic Games, but it
only lasted a minute or two before he and his family were swamped by
plainclothes policemen.

And he only got that far because he had not bothered to ask for
official permission to demonstrate, "so nobody knew we were going" to
Ritan Park in the center of the city, said Hai, who asked that his
full name not be used for fear of more retribution.

Ritan Park houses one of three "protest pens" that the Chinese
authorities have set aside for demonstrations by foreigners or
Chinese citizens during the Games, suggesting that this offers a
chance for the free speech they had promised for the Olympics.

One week into the event, however, none of the sites has seen a single
officially approved demonstration, and several protest applicants
have been jailed, detained, expelled from the capital, or harassed.

The sites' designation was "one step further to open up and I think
it's a very good gesture" said Wang Wei, vice president of the
Beijing Games organizing committee, last week.

The fact that nobody has been allowed to use them, however, and that
some people have been punished for trying, "is a step back" says Sara
Davis, founder of Asia Catalyst, a US nonprofit that supports human
rights activists in Asia. "It is a sad moment and quite disheartening."

Police spokesmen have refused to say how many applications for
protests they have received. Chinese law requires potential
protesters to apply five days in advance for permission.

Hai did not do that, he explained, because "I was not protesting
against the government or the country."

His goal, he said, was to draw attention to the way local authorities
in his home town of Huiming, in Shandong Province, have refused to
compensate his family for confiscating his house.

The morning after the Games' opening ceremony, Hai and his family
went to Ritan Park and raised a cardboard sign. Almost immediately he
was set upon by about 20 plainclothes policemen, he said. Only the
presence of two foreign reporters, who accompanied him to a taxi,
saved him from arrest, he added.

Three days later, however, Hai's aged mother was questioned for
several hours at a police station, and, since then, carloads of
plainclothes police have been parked outside his home and his
mother's home, preventing them from leaving.

Other would-be protesters have been treated more harshly. Zhang Wei,
who has often protested the destruction of her Beijing home in a
redevelopment project, was taken from her home a few days after
applying for a protest permit.

She later joined some of her former neighbors at a protest near her
old home, and the police have informed her family that she is serving
a 30-day sentence for "disturbing the social order," according to her
sister. "As ordinary people we don't have any rights," she added. "We
are not allowed to file a lawsuit or to sue the government. We can
only suffer."

Tang Xuefen, who applied for a permit on Aug. 5 to protest local
corruption in his home province of Henan, has disappeared, and a
friend of his, Ji Sizun, a legal activist from Fujian, was last seen
being put into an unmarked Buick by plainclothes policemen after
going to a Beijing police station to enquire about the status of his
own request on Aug. 11, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Other complainants have simply been expelled from Beijing.

Ge Yifei, representing property owners in the southern city of Suzhou
who are in dispute with the company that built their homes,
registered a protest request on Aug. 1.

While she was still in the police station, she says, four Suzhou
policemen who had apparently followed her to Beijing burst in and
forced her to go with them. The next day she was forcibly escorted
back to Suzhou by train.

A similar fate befell Zhang Dongfang, a leader of a small nationalist
group defending China's rights to the Diaoyu chain of islands,
currently occupied by Japan.

After another member of his group enquired about the regulations for
holding protests, Mr. Zhang said, "the Hunan police called" from his
home province. "They forced me to come back and made it clear it had
to do with the Olympics," he explained.

"They said they had received a call from the Beijing Public Security
Bureau," he added.

No foreign group is known to have applied for official permission to
demonstrate. The most visible international activist group here,
Students for a Free Tibet, has launched its protests – generally
unfurling Tibetan flags or banners demanding Tibetan independence –
on streets near the Olympic venues or on Tiananmen Square. The
protesters have all been deported.

"We saw the protest pens as a cynical public relations effort,
nothing more" says Han Shan, Olympics campaign coordinator for the
group. "They are a farce, and the government has been using them
essentially as a trap."

It is unclear whether the designation of the protest parks was ever a
serious proposition.

The Beijing police have made no official reference to the proposal
since it was first announced last month by Liu Shaowu, head of
security for the Olympics' Chinese organizing committee BOCOG, at a
press conference.Nor did the official transcript of Mr. Liu's
comments, carried on BOCOG's website, contain the names of the three
parks that he had specified, suggesting official second thoughts.

Spokesmen for all three of the parks said over the weekend that they
had heard nothing from the Beijing police about any plans for
demonstrations, and that none had been held.

Zhang Yajun contributed to this story.

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