It was something to make you wonder aloud: “Are they serious?” As part of the good face towards the outside world that China was trying to build in the run-up to the Beijing Games – an attempt to live up to supposed “Olympic ideals,” since similar measures had apparently been introduced at the Athens and Sydney Olympics – back last month the Chinese authorities announced that protests and demonstrations would be legally allowed, but only within zones that would be designated within three of Beijing’s parks, namely the Zizhuyuan, Ritan, and World Parks, respectively in the city’s NW, E, and SW parts. All that was necessary was to apply for permission five days in advance, specifying in your application, in detail, the planned nature of the protest, the topic, and the number of participants.
(If you’d like a bit of English-language amusement, you can check out the on-line article about this from Xinhua, one of China’s two official news agencies. The respective park managers are diligently boning up on the national “law on assemblies, procession and demonstrations” to get prepared; meanwhile, park visitors express alarm that their lives could be disturbed.)
No, of course they were not serious. Kim Rathcke Jensen of the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende did a bit of follow-up on these alleged “protest zones,” and found results that were about what you would expect (Demonstrators “Disappear” at the Olympic Games). “Protesters? No, I haven’t seen any of them,” is the reply one old man gives to the inquiring reporter in Ritan Park, and he comes there every day. Of course, Jensen takes care to go further up the chain to find out how many applications have so far been approved. Answer: none. And yes, there have been applications submitted. Jensen knows of at least five – resulting not just in rejected applications, but also three of the applicants being forced to leave Beijing, while two have disappeared entirely.
“It’s a trap,” says Jiang Tianyong, whom Jensen calls China’s foremost human-rights lawyer. “Either the applicants disappear, they are detained, or their application is denied.” He can only point out that, in effect, the Chinese government is once again breaking a pre-Olympic promise, just as it did in the matter of free Internet access. Oh, and none of the government authorities whom Jensen tried to contact to speak about the matter were willing to cooperate.
Meanwhile we have word from the French Communist Party organ L’Humanité that certain pro-Tibet demonstrators have seen through the “protest zone” farce and chosen to try their luck just where the authorities don’t want to see them, namely at one of the Olympics sites. The article does not state which one, but does report that there was an attempted demonstration Wednesday morning (today, but Beijing time), which was “brutally suppressed” according to the French news-agency AFP. What’s more, a British television journalist who was trying to cover it (namely John Ray of Independent Television News) was rather roughly dragged to the ground by policemen and then imprisoned for twenty minutes in a near-by restaurant. The IOC, in reaction, issued a statement that “the media must be free to cover the Olympic Games” and promised to take up their concerns with the Chinese authorities should their investigation of what happened show that that is called for.
UPDATE: Speaking of Humanité, there is then the ignoble depth of cruelty to which the Chinese authorities descended by sentencing two women in their late 70s to “re-education through labor” for daring to believe that they could apply during the Games to protest the way local authorities had treated them in seizing their homes for development.