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China tightens grip on protesters

‘Protest pens’ have been empty. Those who have sought permission to demonstrate have been detained or harassed.

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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.

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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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