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Page last updated at 00:21 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 01:21 UK

Protests still unwelcome in Beijing

China has set aside three parks during the Olympics, to allow people to demonstrate. But, as the BBC's Michael Bristow finds out, the parks are empty and those who apply for permission to protest are even finding themselves arrested.

Model of the Capitol building in Washington DC, Shijie Park
Shijie Park is full of tourists admiring model buildings rather than protesters
Just before the Olympic Games began, officials said ordinary Chinese people would be able to apply for permission to vent their feelings.

But several would-be demonstrators appear to have been detained by the authorities after trying to apply for that permission.

This is just one way in which China is attempting to restrict embarrassing protests during the Olympic Games.

"The protest application process clearly isn't about giving people greater freedom of expression, but making it easier for the police to suppress it," said Sophie Richardson, from Human Rights Watch.

One of those detained is Zhang Wei, who was held after applying to stage a protest about her family's forced eviction from their courtyard home.

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Her son, Mi Yu, said she was initially supposed to be held for just three days for "disturbing social order", but that that had now been extended to 30 days.

Ms Zhang, forced to move to make way for redevelopment in Beijing's Qianmen district, made several protest applications.

"She went every two or three days after seeing a report about the parks. But the police did not give their approval," Mr Mi said.

His mother was taken away last week. The family have not heard from her since.

Many obstacles

Another activist held after making a protest application was Ji Sizun, who was detained on Monday, according to Human Rights Watch.

The 58-year-old, from Fujian province, wanted to call for greater participation by ordinary people in the political process.

Citing witnesses, the rights group said Mr Ji was taken away shortly after entering a Beijing police station to ask about his application.

This application process is a taxing one. Would-be protesters even have to tell police what posters and slogans they intend to use.

There have been reports of others who have been prevented from staging protests in the designated areas.

Some have just had their applications turned down, one was sent back to her home province and yet others have been stopped from travelling to Beijing.

Confusion

The parks designated as protest zones - Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan - do not seem to have been inundated with protesters.

A student unveils a banner outside the Birds Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing (6th August) Image: Free Tibet
There has been the occasional protest by pro-Tibet campaigners
At Shijie ("World") Park on Wednesday one worker said there had not been a single demonstration since the Olympics began.

Potential protesters might have been put off by the police car and van parked directly outside the main entrance of the park, which houses large models of famous world sites.

No one seemed to know where a protest could be held, even if Beijing's Public Security Bureau gave its approval.

"I don't know anything about that," said a ticket collector when asked where protesters could express their opinions.

It was a similar story at Ritan Park, where there seems to have been no protests either.

Dissuading people from protesting is just one tactic being used by China's security forces to prevent demonstrations.

Beijing's streets are full of police, other security personnel and volunteers, wearing red armbands, on the lookout for trouble.

Eight pro-Tibet demonstrators from Students for a Free Tibet were quickly detained on Wednesday after staging a protest.

Some well-known Chinese activists have also been told to keep a low profile during the Olympics. The friend of one said she had decided to leave the city during the Olympics to avoid trouble.



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