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Beijing announces 'protest pens'

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One of the dilemmas the Chinese authorities have been wrestling with as they plan next month’s Olympics has been how to deal with protesters against Beijing’s policies on Tibet or on human rights – to pick two particularly contentious issues.

Today they announced their plan: They will set up “protest pens” in three Beijing parks, where demonstrations may be held so long as they have been previously authorized by the city police. Anything else will be banned.

This, the government hopes, will prove an acceptable compromise between its own tradition of strictly forbidding public demonstrations against official policy and international expectations that Beijing will uphold free speech for visitors.

But it will be interesting to see who actually ends up using these pens, which are bound to attract heavy media attention, despite the fact they are due to be located in parks between 30 minutes and an hour’s drive from the Olympic Green (on a good traffic day).

Dissatisfied Chinese citizens would hardly be advised to use them: they would be down at the local police station faster than you can say “my rights under the Chinese Constitution.”

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