The three parks that China designated protest zones are going unused, although its not for lack of trying.
Below is a quick link to a New York Times article on the three so-called “Protest Zones” established in Beijing during the Olympics. (It should be pointed out that World Park is quite a distance from central Beijing.)
In an authoritarian country that bans almost all forms of public protest, the newfound openness seemed too good to be true. And it was.
Five days after the Olympics began, not a single demonstration had taken place in the official protest zones. The authorities have declined to say whether any applications have been approved, and they did not acknowledge the detention of would-be demonstrators.
After promising the IOC it would make an effort to improve human rights in advance of the Olympic games, it seems that China’s government has certainly tried to create appearances to that effect.
To be fair, it’s impressive that Andrew Jacobs, who reported this story, was able to accompany a permit applicant to a police station. This fact probably speaks to the importance placed on accomodating the international press over the coming three week, especially after the internet censorship fiasco last week.
The irony, of course, is that the practice — greatly expanded over the past eight years — of establishing “free speech zones” undercuts American credibility on this issue.
The last paragraphs of the NYT story are chilling.
Over the years, he said, he has been jailed a dozen times and beaten repeatedly for trying to publicize corruption in Xingyi, a village just outside Harbin in China’s northeast.
At the reception area, a pair of officers questioned him about the nature of his protest and asked him to fill out a lengthy form that included the names and numbers of the officials who had wronged him. Mr. Gao was reluctant, but he complied.
After an hour, they smiled and told him to return in five days. As he walked out the door, he overheard one of the officers on the phone. He was calling the police station in Harbin.
(For a foreign visitor’s firsthand view of security at Beijing’s public spaces, see a post at the Beijing Olympics Blog.)