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China nixes all Olympic protest requests

August 18, 2008

From The Associated Press
By Audra Ang

Chinese authorities have not approved any of the 77 applications they received from people who wanted to hold protests during the Beijing Olympics, state media reported Monday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said all the applications were withdrawn, suspended or rejected. Rights groups and relatives have said some applicants were immediately taken away by security agents after applying to hold a rally, prompting critics to accuse officials of using the plan as a trap to draw potential protesters to their attention.

The Xinhua report provided the first details about Beijing’s plan to allow strictly regulated protests in three designated areas during the Aug. 8-24 Games. The plan was intended to deflect criticism over China’s poor human rights record, which came under increased scrutiny in the run-up to the Olympics. But there has not been one demonstration in any of the three venues since the Games began.

Some reporters have pressed Olympic officials to show how China has improved human rights, a promise it made while bidding to host the Games. Wang Wei, vice-president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, defended the protest plan Monday to journalists.

“Many problems have not been solved, not even by the United Nations, and some want them to be solved during the Olympic Games, putting pressure on the International Olympic Committee and the Beijing Olympic Committee,” Wang said.

“This is not realistic,” he added. “We think that you do not really understand China’s reality. China has its own version and way of exercising our democracy.”

Xinhua said authorities received 77 applications from 149 people since Aug. 1, a week before the games opened. Three of the 149 applicants were from overseas. They wanted to protest over a range of issues from labour and medical disputes to inadequate welfare, the report said.

Citing an unidentified spokesman for the Public Security Bureau, Xinhua said 74 of the applications were withdrawn because the problems “were properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations.”

Two other applications were suspended because they did not provide sufficient information and one was rejected because it violated laws against demonstrations and protests, the spokesman said. The bureau also received 22 inquiries about application procedures, Xinhua said.

A woman who answered the telephone at the spokesman’s office of the bureau would not comment on the report.

Since the games began, at least two people who applied to protest have been taken away, their families and rights groups said.

Ji Sizun, who came to Beijing from the southern province of Fujian, wanted to denounce official corruption, and abuses of power. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said last week that he was escorted out of the public security bureau when he checked on his application and put in an unmarked car by several men who appeared to be plainclothes policemen.

And the son of a housing activist, Zhang Wei, said last week that his mother had been taken by authorities from her home and has been officially detained for a month for “disturbing social order.” Zhang, who has been a vocal opponent of her family’s forced eviction, had also tried to apply for permission to protest publicly, said her son, Mi Yu.

Phelim Kine, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it wanted more information on what happened to those applicants.

“We would like some transparency regarding who those citizens were, what their issues were and how the Chinese government has supposedly resolved those issues because we have justifiable concern about the whereabouts and safety of those individuals given that there have been several documented incidents in which Chinese citizens who have legally applied have gone missing and are potentially in detention,” Kine said.

Though there have been no demonstrations since the games started in the three designated venues, small unregulated protests have cropped up at other places in the city. Most of them have been staged by foreigners who have been swiftly deported after unfurling “Free Tibet” banners.

Liu Shaowu, the Beijing Olympics’ security chief, said protests must not harm “national, social and collective interests.”

Protests have become common in China – from workers upset about factory layoffs to farmers angry about land confiscation – but the Communist leadership remains wary about large demonstrations, fearing they could snowball into anti-government movements.

The sensitivity is greater during the Olympics, which China hoped would showcase the country as a modern world power.

On Monday, a group of about a dozen people applied for permits to protest about being forcibly evicted from their homes in four districts to make way for a redevelopment project. As they lodged their application at the Public Security Bureau, plainclothes security officers videotaped them and took their photographs, a common method for Chinese authorities to keep track of dissenting voices and one that intimidates many Chinese.

“I have lived all over since I became homeless, including tunnels, warehouses, on the street, and the houses of friends and relatives,” Yang Shuangjun, 37, who lost his home in 2006, told Associated Press reporters who were present. “What they have done to us is unlawful and unfair.”

“I don’t think they will give us any answers, but despite this, we still want to try to march within the law,” said Yang, a tall, soft-spoken man.

The group left after about two hours and most were not optimistic about getting their applications approved.

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