Protest Application Brings Labor-Camp Threat, Woman Says

A plainclothes officer in Beijing videotapes journalists outside a government building as residents apply inside for a permit to protest at the Olympics.
A plainclothes officer in Beijing videotapes journalists outside a government building as residents apply inside for a permit to protest at the Olympics. (By Jill Drew -- The Washington Post)
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By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 21, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 20 -- Two elderly women could face a year of "reeducation through labor" because they applied for permits to demonstrate during the Olympics, according to one of the would-be protesters.

Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, went to Chinese police five times between Aug. 5 and 18 to seek approval to protest against officials who evicted them from their homes in 2001.

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau did not approve or deny their applications during the first three visits. On the fourth visit, the women were told that they had been ordered to serve time for "disturbing the public order" until July 29, 2009.

According to a written order they received, they would not have to immediately go to a reeducation labor camp, but their movements would be restricted. If they violated various provisions or regulations, however, they could be sent to a labor camp.

Wu and Wang tried to return a fifth time to inquire again about their protest application, but they were told that their right to apply had been stripped.

"When I first heard about the possibility of being allowed to protest, I was very happy. My issue could be resolved. But it turned out all to be cheating. . . . I feel stuck in my heart," Wu said in a telephone interview.

Wu's son, Li Xuehui, 48, said his mother and her friend are outraged.

Usually labor reeducation is reserved for "prostitutes and thieves," Li said. "What the two old ladies did is nowhere near that." He pointed out that Wang is blind in one eye and can barely see out of the other.

"We are a communist society, with the people the leaders and owners, but basic citizens' rights cannot even be realized today. How sad it is. The way things are is the opposite of the 'people-oriented' ideology of the country when it was founded," Li said.

In response to international pressure, China said it would allow protests in three parks during the Olympic Games Aug. 8-24. Earlier this week, the official New China News Agency reported that police had received 77 applications, but none has been approved.

"Punishing Wu and Wang after they applied for protest permits and actively petitioned the government demonstrates that the official statements touting the new Olympics 'protest zones,' as well as the permit application process, were no more than a show," the executive director of Human Rights in China, Sharon Hom, said in a statement.

Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, cast the empty protest zones in a positive light, telling reporters Wednesday that the disputes brought by would-be protesters had been resolved.

The International Olympic Committee, which has been criticized for not taking a harder line against China for failing to fulfill promises it made related to human rights, has referred questions about the protest zones to the Beijing government.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies recently said, however, that "to date, what had been announced publicly doesn't appear in reality to be happening, and a number of questions are being asked.

"The IOC is keen to see those questions answered by the relevant authorities," she added.

Researcher Crissie Ding contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company