BEIJING — Eleven people came here to the capital on Monday, bent on protesting property losses. They were experienced, having been to Beijing before to petition the central government. They were familiar, all coming from the same town and having been locked up in the same jails. They were crafty, flying up on two planes from a third city, rather than taking the train from their own, and lying low for two days before trying anything.
But they never had a chance.
Some of the group left their hide-out, an apartment in a northern neighborhood, on Wednesday to carry out a protest outside the main Olympic stadium, called the Bird’s Nest. But there was no protest, and they have not been heard from. Later, another protester, Huang Liuhong, stepped outside with her supporters, only to find some 50 police officers from her hometown. They told her they had been watching her and the others ever since they arrived.
That night, Ms. Huang, 36, speaking by cellphone, said that she and her older sister were being driven back south to their city, Liuzhou, and that a policewoman had just stripped them naked so they would not try to run away.
“We’re surrounded by police, and there are more coming to meet us,” she said.
The case of Ms. Huang and the other disgruntled residents of Liuzhou, who came here to hold demonstrations over four cases of property seizure or destruction, shows that when it comes to freedom of protest, the Olympics changed little in the Chinese capital. The Chinese government still requires citizens to register to protest, and it has yet to grant any permits for people to hold lawful protests in three designated parks in Beijing.
Before the Olympics, the central government ordered local governments to keep protesters or troublemakers from coming to Beijing, and the vigilance of the police officers from Liuzhou shows that that order still stands.
The Paralympics run through Wednesday, and perhaps some restrictions will ease afterward. But citizens like Ms. Huang remain skeptical that there has been any real increase in freedom of speech, despite the hopes of the International Olympic Committee that awarding the Games to China would encourage the government to improve its free speech and human rights record.
“Our government is one of all cheaters,” Ms. Huang said in an interview in an apartment in northern Beijing hours before being detained. “This society isn’t ruled by law, but by people’s whims.”
Before the Games began on Aug. 8, the central government announced the opening of three protest parks in Beijing. But the government went on to detain people who applied to protest — including two frail women in their late 70s who were sentenced to “re-education through labor” for wanting to demand more compensation for the seizure of their homes.
That incident was echoed on Tuesday when the police in Tiananmen Square dragged away an elderly woman who was trying to hold a sit-in there, according to Ming Pao, a newspaper based in Hong Kong. The woman lived in a village near Beijing, and she was accusing the village chief of persecuting her, the newspaper reported. Police officers bundled her into a squad car.
The people from Liuzhou, a midsize industrial city in Guangxi Autonomous Region, had traveled to Beijing on Monday with high hopes.
Ms. Huang — on her 11th visit in 16 months — intended to go to Tiananmen Square with her 4-month-old son to unfurl the white banner she had prepared: “Corruption of the Judiciary Is Terrible Corruption.” And she planned to jump into the moat of the Forbidden City beneath the portrait of Mao.
Another petitioner, Chen Huiwen, 54, said in an interview before she left for the Bird’s Nest: “I’m asking for justice. I want to protest and to march.”
Ms. Chen is accusing a real estate company and the Liuzhou government of colluding with a criminal gang to drive her and eight family members illegally from their home last year. The house was torn down for a development project.
Ms. Chen said her husband, Yu Huojing, came to Beijing several times to petition officials after a local court refused to hear their case. In July, Mr. Yu was picked up by the police as soon as he stepped off the train and was sent to a detention center in Liuzhou, Ms. Chen said. He was held for 51 days.
“A government official said, ‘The Olympics are coming,’ ” Ms. Chen said.
On Aug. 15, in the middle of the Olympics and while her husband was still in detention, Ms. Chen arrived in Beijing by train and went straight to Tiananmen Square. She said her goal was to jump into the moat in front of the Forbidden City in an act of protest, as Ms. Huang planned to do. But Ms. Chen said officers grabbed her as soon as she climbed onto the railing of a curved footbridge that traverses the moat beneath the portrait of Mao.
“I was held in a jail in the Tiananmen area, then I was sent back to Liuzhou, where I was detained for another nine days,” she said.
Another woman whose home was torn down, Zhong Ruihua, 62, flew up with her daughter to apply for a permit to protest in Purple Bamboo Park, one of the three designated zones.
She said they prepared an electronic application form on Tuesday night but had yet to e-mail it. They were too scared to apply in person. “We didn’t go in person because of course they’ll detain us,” she said.
Like the others, Ms. Zhong and her daughter walked out of the apartment on Wednesday and disappeared from the streets of Beijing. They are probably being sent back to Liuzhou.
The old man who was renting the apartment to the protesters was also picked up by the police. Sitting in a police station, he told a reporter by telephone that he was being charged with harboring criminals.