No Permits, No Protests In Beijing's Special 'Pens'

Qin Gang is a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry.
Qin Gang is a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry. (By Elizabeth Dalziel -- Associated Press)
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By Jill Drew and Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 15, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 14 -- As the Olympic Games end their first week, there are no reports that anyone has used the "protest pens" set up in three Beijing parks for demonstrations sanctioned under Chinese law.

Indeed, a few Chinese who followed the process to apply for a protest permit are now either missing or detained. Others have been harassed by authorities and sent home without getting approval.

Ji Sizun, a legal advocate from Fujian province who tried three times to apply for a permit to protest against government corruption, was detained on Aug. 11. He had returned to the Beijing Public Security Bureau to confront officials about the disappearance of his friend Tang Xuechen, who had gone to apply for a permit on Aug. 5 to protest corruption in his home province of Hunan.

Tang remains missing and Ji cannot be reached on his cellphone.

Ge Yifei, a doctor from Suzhou, was detained for several hours after trying to apply to protest a property dispute. She was forcibly escorted home, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Chinese officials defend the permitting process, but they said they could not address how it was being implemented. Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, told reporters Thursday he had no information on why no one had yet been approved to protest. And Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular press briefing Wednesday that "no one will be detained for applying for demonstrations."

Liu Zhenlu, whose daughter died when her school collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake in May, did not get far enough to test Qin's assertion. Last week he was prevented by local officials from traveling to Beijing for a protest permit to draw attention to shoddy construction practices. After The Washington Post reported on the confrontation, Liu disappeared. His wife said he was gone from about 5 p.m. on Aug. 11 until the following day at 3 p.m., when a few friends were allowed to pick him up at the police station.

"He just sat at home and wouldn't say a word. We gave up trying to ask him what happened," one friend said before quickly hanging up the phone, which he said was monitored. "We're worried the government will take us, too."

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