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China's Would-Be Protesters Denied

Ge Yifei, right, says she was not allowed to apply for a protest permit. She and friend Xu Pingli want to protest a developer and their local government.
Ge Yifei, right, says she was not allowed to apply for a protest permit. She and friend Xu Pingli want to protest a developer and their local government. (By Ariana Eunjung Cha -- The Washington Post)
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A year ago, Reporters Without Borders drew the ire of the Chinese government when some of its activists unfurled a banner with the Olympic rings as handcuffs in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Since then, Brossel said, China since has become more successful at keeping foreign human rights activists out of the country.

"I would be very pleased to be able to demonstrate in Beijing, but we cannot even get a visa," he said.

Some applicants have been told not to waste their time.

Sang Jun, a 38-year-old former factory worker who lost his 11-year-old son in the Sichuan earthquake in May, said he and other parents from his school, the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School, dispatched representatives to Beijing in late July to inquire about protest permits. He said the group hoped to bring world attention to dangerous construction practices that he believes led to the collapse of so many schools in the region.

But the group's representatives were stopped at Chengdu Airport, Sang said. "The police tore up their tickets," he said. "They said that they would be willing to talk and resolve things after the Olympics."

Then there's the case of the Chinese Civilian Association for Safeguarding the Diaoyu Islands, a nationalist group that advocates a tougher stance by the Chinese government toward Japan and has been accused of being anti-Japanese.

Zhang Likun, a member of the group, said he called the Public Security Bureau at the end of July to ask about the application process. When he explained his group's purpose -- to lobby against the Japanese prime minister's plans to fly a Japanese military plane to China -- he was told his application would be rejected and not to bother applying.

Ge, the would-be protester from Suzhou, said she had been in Beijing for less than two hours when the four men, wearing street clothes and sporting identical brown canvas shoulder bags, found her at the bureau.

For five years, Ge and others had been fighting with the city of Suzhou over development near a luxury apartment building in which they had invested. The investors claimed that the city had violated their rights by paving over the building's extensive garden and razing tennis courts and other recreational facilities to make way for new residences. Ge and other owners said the rental value of their properties plummeted as a result of the city's actions.

The two sides have clashed in lawsuits and demonstrations. At one point, residents smashed the brick walls of the newly constructed buildings with hammers.

On Friday, the men told Ge that they were part of the police force in her home town and that they came to give her some advice. She was in danger in the capital, they said, warning that she would be "captured" by the Beijing police. They insisted that she return home immediately.

Officials from Suzhou's city commission, propaganda office and secretarial department, which processes letters of complaint to high-level officials, said they had not heard about Ge's case and therefore could not comment.

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