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China gets 77 protest applications, approves 0

Ask for permit and risk arrest, jail or trip home
By Bill Schiller, Toronto Star
August 18, 2008

BEIJING - At least 77 applications seeking police permission to protest in Beijing during the Olympic Games have been submitted to Chinese authorities since Aug. 1, government officials revealed yesterday.

Not a single one has been approved.

Public Security officials revealed the numbers to a state-run news agency last night, after more than two weeks of persistent requests by journalists covering the Games, curious about the state of freedom of assembly and expression in China.

Olympic organizing officials announced July 23 that the government would establish three so-called "protest zones" where citizens would be free to protest - provided their applications were approved by police.

But a number of citizens who did apply, or tried to apply, have been detained, questioned, jailed or shipped back to their home cities, sometimes with police escort.

In the meantime, the designated parks have remained the quiet and peaceful retreats they have always been.

Of the 77 applications, Chinese citizens had submitted 74 - all withdrawn after "consultations" with government authorities, police said.

Of the three remaining, the officials added, two were "suspended" for insufficient information and one was "rejected" for being against Chinese law.

Earlier in the day Wang Wei, the vice-president of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee, suggested it was unfair for journalists to press Beijing Olympic officials on the government's policies and actions.

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

"This is not realistic," he said. "We think that you do not really understand China's reality.

"China has its own version and way of exercising our democracy."

Dinah PoKempner, general counsel for Human Rights Watch in New York, said by phone last night many predicted the protest plan results.

"The rejections aren't surprising given the government's antipathy to criticism generally and visible protest in particular," she said.

"What is surprising is that 77 applications were even filed in light of the high risks protesters run of arrest, harassment and physical harm.

"These 77 protest applicants should shame those who say that Chinese are content with some different and lower standard of liberty - and it should impel apologists for the government's appalling performance to insist that real human rights benchmarks be part of any future Olympic hosting."

Retired physician Ge Yifei of Suzhou tried to apply to protest this month but was detained, questioned and deported.

Ge told the Star that four public security officers from her hometown showed up while she was making the application in Beijing, put her in a police car, detained her for hours at a Beijing hotel, then put her on an overnight train with two police officers for an 11-hour, 1,000-kilometre journey back home.

There she was welcomed by more police and yet more questioning.

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