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Approval to protest harder to win than medals in Beijing

August 20, 2008

Halfway through the Olympics, 77 applications made, 0 approved
Aileen McCabe, at the Beijing Games
Canwest News Service (Canada)
August 18, 2008

BEIJING - The Chinese had 77 requests to protest during the Olympics,
but all but two have been dismissed so far, it was revealed Monday.

The two applications still under consideration are on hold, pending
"more information of the eligible participants" and "adequate papers
as required," according to the official news agency Xinhua.

It quoted an unnamed spokesperson at the Beijing Public Security
Office saying one application was vetoed because "it is in violation
of China's law on demonstrations and protests."

The other 74 applications to demonstrate in the three officially
sanctioned protest parks were withdrawn "because the problems those
applicants contended for were properly addressed by relevant
authorities or departments through consultations," the report said.

Security officials said 149 people, including three foreigners,
submitted applications to protest.

Despite persistent inquiries since the Olympic Games opened 11 days
ago, these are the first details Chinese authorities have revealed
about the protest parks. Some of them fly in the face of information
journalists and human rights groups have uncovered independently.

For instance, several cases of Chinese citizens being forcibly
prevented from filing applications to protest have been widely
reported. As well, there are documented cases of applicants being
taken away by police and presumably jailed.

There has yet to be a protest in any of the designated zones,
although there are reports that a few Chinese with placards - but
without authorization - have tried and been turned away by police.
Indeed, the only demonstrations so far during the Games have been a
handful of theatrical protests staged by Students for a Free Tibet
and all of the participants, including several Canadians, have been deported.

Questions about the empty protest zones have been raised repeatedly
at the regular Olympic media briefings, but neither the Beijing
organizing committee nor the International Olympic Committee have
been able or willing to answer them.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies has repeatedly punted responsibility
for the protest zones to the Beijing city government, but she did
concede at one point: "To date, what had been announced publicly
doesn't appear in reality to be happening and a number of questions
are being asked.

"The IOC is keen to see those questions answered by the relevant authorities."

The protest parks were specifically included in the 21 edicts the
propaganda ministry issued to Chinese media ahead of the Games. It
declared: "In regard to the three protest parks, no interviews and
coverage is allowed."

Telling Xinhua to publish information now seems to be an attempt by
the Chinese government to stop the increasingly hostile questions at
the Olympic briefings.

It is unlikely to succeed, however.

The numbers released raise more questions than they answer and may
even to confirm suspicions by the New York-based Human Rights Watch
and others that the protest zones are a sham.

Canadian Phelim Kine, a Hong Kong-based researcher for HRW charged,
"the so-called Beijing Olympic 'protest zones' are in fact a cynical
exercise by the Chinese government to appear to be meeting the
standards of previous Olympic cities for matters such as public
protests and media and Internet freedom, while in fact the
authorities are actively undermining those rights to ensure a veneer
of 'stability and harmony' during the Games."

The Chinese who applied to protest were concerned about "issues like
labour disputes, medical disputes or inadequate welfares," according
to the Xinhua report.

It did not mention, however, the cases foreign journalists have dug
up of Chinese wanting to protest over the demolition of their homes
and unfair treatment by officials, nor the group of parents who lost
children in the Sichuan earthquake who were prevented from even
filing an application to protest about the shoddy school construction
that contributed to their deaths.

With files from Allen Panzeri

Aileen McCabe is in Beijing as part of the Canwest News Service Olympic Team
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