BEIJING — In a tacit criticism of China's intolerance of dissent, the International Olympic Committee says the Chinese government should have allowed its official protest zones to be "genuinely used" by demonstrators, rather than letting them sit empty.
It is the latest sign of IOC discontent with China's unwillingness to permit any demonstrations at the three parks where the government had promised to allow protests during the Beijing Olympics.
Beijing announced this week that it had received 77 applications from 149 people who wanted to protest at the designated zones during the Games. Yet no protests have taken place. All of the applications were "withdrawn" or rejected for various reasons, according to the city government.
In reality, many of those who applied were detained or jailed by the authorities, human-rights groups say, arguing that China used the protest zones as a propaganda tactic to give the appearance of complying with international standards, while actually using the application process to identify potential protesters.
|Wu Dianyuan, left, and her neighbour Wang Xiuying are watched over by a plainclothes security officer as they wait to apply for a protest permit outside a public security bureau in Beijing on Monday. (Ng Han Gua/AP)
Among the detained were two Chinese women - including a nearly blind 77-year-old - who wanted to protest the loss of their homes after they were forcibly evicted by local authorities. After they applied to protest at the designated zones, the two women were interrogated by police for 10 hours and eventually ordered to serve a year of "re-education through labour," according to human-rights activists.
At a news conference yesterday, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies made it clear that the IOC is unhappy with China's refusal to allow protests at the designated zones.
"Certainly we continue to ask [for] as much transparency as possible," she said. "We would of course welcome that the areas are genuinely used."
Wang Wei, vice-president of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee, said the government is "quite happy" that all of the 77 protest applications were "resolved" through "dialogue and communication" without protests taking place.
People should be "satisfied" by the government's announcement of the three designated protest zones, even if they weren't actually used by anyone, he said. Nobody should be "demonstrating for the sake of demonstration," he added. "I think everybody has the right to speak. ... This is not the same as demonstrating."
Mr. Wang suggested that anyone who insists on protesting in Beijing is violating the traditions of Chinese culture. "Chinese culture always emphasizes the concept of harmony," he told reporters yesterday.
But critics say the government is far from harmonious in its treatment of anyone who wants to protest. The two women who were sentenced to "re-education through labour" - Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying - are not the only Chinese citizens who were detained by police after they applied for a protest permit.
Human Rights Watch cites the case of Ji Sizun, a legal activist from Fujian province, who went to a Beijing police station on Aug. 8 to apply for permission to hold a protest in one of the three designated zones. In his planned protest, he wanted to denounce corruption and call for greater participation by Chinese people in the political process. But three days later, when he went back to the police station to check on the status of his application, he was taken into police custody and has not been seen publicly since, Human Rights Watch says.
"The detention and harassment of those who tried to take the government at its word shows the lengths to which the authorities will go to keep people from peacefully expressing their views," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Mr. Ji's case.