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China tightens grip on protesters

‘Protest pens’ have been empty. Those who have sought permission to demonstrate have been detained or harassed.

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Mr. Hai is the only Chinese citizen to have successfully staged a protest in Beijing during the current Olympic Games, but it only lasted a minute or two before he and his family were swamped by plainclothes policemen.

And he only got that far because he had not bothered to ask for official permission to demonstrate, “so nobody knew we were going” to Ritan Park in the center of the city, said Hai, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of more retribution.

Ritan Park houses one of three “protest pens” that the Chinese authorities have set aside for demonstrations by foreigners or Chinese citizens during the Games, suggesting that this offers a chance for the free speech they had promised for the Olympics.

One week into the event, however, none of the sites has seen a single officially approved demonstration, and several protest applicants have been jailed, detained, expelled from the capital, or harassed.

The sites’ designation was “one step further to open up and I think it’s a very good gesture” said Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Games organizing committee, last week.

The fact that nobody has been allowed to use them, however, and that some people have been punished for trying, “is a step back” says Sara Davis, founder of Asia Catalyst, a US nonprofit that supports human rights activists in Asia. “It is a sad moment and quite disheartening.”

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