Beijing: Protests parked

The Chinese authorities announced yesterday that Beijing will set up specially designated zones for protesters during next month's Olympics. This then became a massive media story, with many seeing it as a sign that China's government may allow some demonstrations during the games.

Is it, though?

Many Beijing correspondents noticed that the three protest areas are in outlying parks, not near the Olympic green where the largest number of sports venues are. Jane Macartney's excellent piece in the Times went into even more detail – they have big screens or trees that prevent anyone seeing in from the neighbouring Olympic venues.

However this isn’t the main point. As far as we know (and the announcement was pretty vague) all demonstrations will still have to be approved by police in advance. Given that this is already the case – China’s laws technically allow demos provided they’re approved – the ‘Protest parks’ just restrict the right to protest even further. Permission to protest is hardly ever granted, in case any of you were wondering.

In the case of jailed protester Ye Guozhu, who we learned yesterday will not be released this Saturday but will remain locked up until well after the Olympics are over and everyone’s gone home, it was even worse. When he applied for permission to hold a public protest at the demolition of his Beijing home and family restaurant to make way for Olympics development, he was sentenced to four years in prison and reportedly subjected to electro-shock torture.

And Hu Jia, an activist who campaigned on behalf of HIV/Aids sufferers in China, will celebrate his birthday tomorrow from prison because of his peaceful human rights work. We’ll be championing his case at the Edinburgh Festival this year.

Which raises the question – will only foreign visitors be allowed to protest there or will Chinese people be allowed to protest as well? And what will happen to those Chinese people who do protest? Will there be repercussions?

It’s also worth noting that many people with a complaint against the Chinese government won’t even be allowed into Beijing during the Olympics. Petitioners in Shanghai, for example, have been told to stay there until the Games have finished. And the Telegraph reports that activists based in Beijing have been told to leave town during August.

So when it comes to protest at the Olympics, to misquote the Blackbyrds, I can’t see many people Doin’ it in the Park.

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