Friday, July 25, 2008


Not to be outdone, China is getting into the protest zone thing for the Olympics.

Yup, they'll be setting up special protest zones far from the main sports venues, something that supporters and detractors said is meant to safely channel criticism and avoid disrupting the Games.

And keep those damn people out of sight and out of mind.

The designated protest areas will be in parts of three public parks, all several kilometres from the main Olympic stadium (see map).

"During the Olympics, in order to ensure smooth traffic flow, a nice environment and good social order, we will invite these participants to hold their demonstrations in designated places," said Liu Shaowu, security director with Beijing's Olympic organizing committee.

Isn't that nice?

Oh yeah, about 110,000 policemen, volunteers and other personnel will be on duty to ensure everyone has a pleasant experience, Liu said. Armed police with trained dogs are on round-the-clock patrol at Beijing airport right now and at the four major railway stations. Long-distance bus depots and subways are on high alert too.

This is the first time China is holding such a big sports event, Liu said. "And the huge number of people coming to China can make terrorists launch an attack."

After Monday's bus explosions in Kunming, Beijing has intensified security checks at bus stations and in public transport, he said.

Painstaking efforts have been made to strengthen community patrols, crack down on criminal activities and tighten management over dangerous goods, Liu added.

Liu, however, was unable to give any information on who will be allowed to protest, what restrictions will apply and whether Chinese citizens and foreign groups will have the same rights to demonstrate.

"For us, the protest-zone proposal is too vague," said Alexis Poulin, spokesman for Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media freedom group.

I don't know, but have they made similar comments about the upcoming conventions in Minneapolis and Denver here in the states.

Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch said the protest zones are a "fishbowl approach" that fails to provide any real freedom to people in China.

"It curtails the people's right to protest, since they have to do it within the boundaries that the government sets," he said in an interview yesterday.

"It's a fig leaf to conceal the fact that people aren't free to demonstrate in China. It will create the impression to foreign television audiences that demonstrations are permitted, but domestic audiences will never see it."

As is the case with the protest zones in all the western "democracies," Bequelin is forced to admit. He criticized this broader trend in creating protest zones during international events.

Hey, here in the USA we don't just use protest zones for international events. We like em for all events.

Now, these last few years, in China, especially outside of the capital, angry Chinese haven't paid all that much attention to the legal requirements for permits and the like that the Chinese government (like the US) require. Illegal protests are, in fact, quite common in China, especially in rural areas or smaller cities where peasants and laid-off workers hold demonstrations (and beyond) about issues like local corruption or illegal land seizures. The police usually do the police thing and assault protesters, even as local officials many times are forced to submit to protest demands.

And protest leaders often go to jail (as they do everywhere).

The following is from Xinhua.

Beijing protest parks wait for Games' demonstrations

The elderly were playing cards on Friday afternoon in Ritan Park while children all around them ran wild and laughed. Others were sleeping on chairs, paying no regard that the park had been designated for protests, if any, during the Olympic Games.

"The worst thing I expect is that I have to suspend my business for several weeks during the demonstrations," said Sun Xiaosheng, proprietor of a rock climbing wall. "But I believe the protests would be peaceful. It is unlikely that violent protestors would destroy the park or hurt us."

Ritan, or Temple of Heaven, about 10 km from Beijing's Tian'anmen Square, was where emperors in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties worshiped Heaven and prayed for a good harvest. It was turned into a 20-hectare park after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

China announced on Wednesday it would set up zones in three Beijing parks where demonstrators could legally stage protests during the August Games. They are Zizhuyuan Park in the city's northwest, Ritan Park in the east and World Park in the southwest.

"The move to set aside protest areas is in line with Beijing's promises to the International Olympic Committee to adhere to Olympic traditions, such as free expression outside sporting venues. It offers a new channel for the protestors to better express their opinions by attracting eyes of the tourists, reporters and officials during the Games," said Mo Yuchuan, director of Research Center for Constitutional and Administrative Law of Renmin University of China.

"The measure is also expected to help reduce the risk that unexpected demonstrations of large scale would harm the public interests," he said.

Liu Shaowu, Beijing Olympics organizing committee security director, said no demonstration of "political, religious or racial propaganda" would be permitted in Olympic sites or areas.

But managers of the parks were still waiting for detailed orders such as which parts of the parks would be set aside for public demonstrations, how large the area was, or how to prepare for the potential protests.

Authorities of Zizhuyuan Park, which is about 100 meters from the Capital Indoor Stadium, are planning to set up a task team for security and evacuation during the Games.

Hao Suliang, the park spokesman, started to learn the law on assemblies, procession and demonstrations upon his return from Shanghai to Beijing on Friday. "We would prepare well according to the law so that protestors can express their opinions," he said.

The Chinese law requires that demonstrators make requests at least five days in advance and detail the nature of the protest, the topic and number of participants.

The emergency plan on the board in the World Park's official building showed forces of all departments would be mobilized to deal with 10 kinds of incidents, including illegal demonstrations, activities of heretic sects and terrorist attacks.

But park spokesman Liu Huiming said the plan targets daily accidents and specific preparations for the protest zones and would not start until orders were received from the government.

With nearly two weeks to go before the zones are opened, the biggest worry of locals was whether their lives would be disturbed.

"If the square we dance in is designated to be a protest zone, we would have no place to run or dance," said Yang Jun who frequents Zizhuyuan Park. "Most of us are retired workers and have been used to doing sports here."

"We hope the government can ask for our opinions before making decisions where the protest zone is located. But anyway, we would cooperate with the government," he said.

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