China tightens grip on protesters
‘Protest pens’ have been empty. Those who have sought permission to demonstrate have been detained or harassed.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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 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.”