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Games and the Gulag: Let the Protests Begin

August 10, 2008

Aritz Parra/AP
August 6, 2008

The first skirmishes in the guerrilla war between Chinese authorities
and human rights protesters took place on Wednesday. Plenty of what
China doesn't want to happen has happened here today, but so far it's
been small-scale, with a scrappy, subterranean feel, and very little
of it has occurred in public. By the end of the afternoon, four Free
Tibet protesters had been detained and a film show was canceled.
Human rights groups staged at least four protests.

The day's most successful stunt came from Students for a Free Tibet.
Two men--American Phil Bartell and Briton Iain Thom--climbed pylons
near the showcase Bird's Nest National Stadium at dawn and hung out
banners saying "Tibet will be Free" and "One World, One Dream, Free
Tibet". Police detained the climbers and their two helpers–one man
and one woman–who were acting as spotters at the base of the pylon,
and there has been no word of them since. It's likely they've been
deported. Despite the small scale of this incident, the stadium is
the icon of the Games and will be the site of the opening ceremony on
Friday. It's blow to the police for activists to get so close so such
a sensitive site.

Free Tibet activists also organized film showings in hotel rooms,
notifying reporters by text message. The first show went ahead,
attended by Reuters and BBC reporters, but Newsweek's invitation was
to the later event in a second hotel. There was a distinctly amateur
feel to this occasion as two dozen reporters milled round the lobby
of the modest Hotel G (no secrecy here, that's its full name) in east
Beijing, trying to gain entry to Room 612. While management insisted
that 612's occupant did not want us admitted, reporters dialed the
room and were told to come up. After a while, though, Room 612
stopped answering. Seven journalists who did make it inside appeared
and said that management had switched off the TV and ordered them
out. The UK-based organizers included Dechen Pemba, a Tibetan woman
with a British passport who was deported from Beijing in July. Before
the film, Pemba gave a 10 minute introduction by video, Reuters reported.

Hotel rooms were a creative theme of the day. If the film show was
art-house, the day's third event was more like an art school degree
show installation. Selected reporters were invited to go to two hotel
rooms a couple of miles apart, locate the room key taped to the back
of the "Do not disturb" sign and let themselves inside for a private
viewing. What they found, according to a photographer with the
Spanish paper El Mundo, were walls daubed with slogans and a
life-size black-clad figure laid out on the bed with a splash of red
paint at its neck. Daubed directly onto the walls was the slogan
"Speak out for those who have no voices", the Beijing 2008 logo and
the names of five jailed dissidents. The names in both rooms were the
same: AIDS activist Hu Jia, Pastor Zhang Rongliang who supports
unregistered churches or "house churches", journalist Shi Tao, human
rights activist and lawyer Guo Feixiong, and Falungong member Xu Na.
There was no sign of the organizers (who presumably paid cash for
their rooms) according to Richard Spencer of the UK-based newspaper
The Daily Telegraph. It's not clear who organized these spectacles.

These guerrilla actions are small scale affairs, but the Games
haven't started yet. There almost certainly will be more protests in
the days ahead.

The Hotel G was shut down after this incident, according to an email
from the film show's organizers. "According to many sources the
guests of Hotel G. were forced to leave their hotel and find other
places for the coming night," it said.
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