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Kristi Heim: The World in China

Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim explores a changing China on the world stage.

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August 20, 2008 6:31 PM

Some things get better, others get worse

Posted by Kristi Heim

While some doors to freedom in China have opened since the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), others seem to be slamming shut even as China welcomed the world here for the Olympics.

China promised the International Olympic Committee that three public parks would be designated for protests. People would be allowed to demonstrate there during the Games after applying for permission through Beijing's Public Security Bureau. It turns out that none of the 77 applications were approved, Chinese state media reported. But that doesn't mean no action has been taken on the applicants. As I suspected last week, now it seems that the application process itself was nothing more than bait.

Among the applicants were two women, Wu Dianyuan, 79 and Wang Xiuying, 77 who wanted to demonstrate in the park against being forcibly evicted from their homes in 2001. When they returned to check the status of their application, they were arrested, interrogated for 10 hours and then sentenced without trial to a year of re-education through labor, according to Human Rights in China (HRIC).

This follows the case of Ji Sizun, who was arrested and detained after he applied to demonstrate in one of the parks. Ji, 58, went to a police station in Beijing Aug. 8 for a permit to hold a protest, stating he would call for greater participation of Chinese citizens in the political process, and denounce official corruption and abuses of power. He was arrested three days later when he returned to check on the status of his application.

Wang Wei, the Beijing Olympic Committee spokesman who headed Beijing's bid in 2001, said at the time that he was confident hosting the Games would enhance human rights in China.

In a news conference yesterday, Wang was asked why none of the applications were approved and why some of the applicants had been arrested. All but three of the applications were withdrawn by the would-be demonstrators after being dissuaded by the authorities or discouraged by the process itself.

He said the process was meant to address problems, and was not merely "for the sake of demonstration." He compared filing for a protest to filing for a divorce, as if it was inherently a bad thing that should be intercepted and prevented if possible.

The issues behind the protests were resolved "through dialogue," Wang said. "This is the way we like to deal with things in Chinese culture."

But I suspect that some people in Hong Kong, Taiwan or other Chinese communities around the world might disagree. People here in Beijing might disagree, too, if they had a chance.

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