Drawing The Line On Political Protest At The Games China has done much to quell dissenting voices ahead of and during the Olympics, and many are not pleased. Some petitioners have been sent out of Beijing, and designated "protest zones" will be hard to use, some say.
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Drawing The Line On Political Protest At The Games

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Drawing The Line On Political Protest At The Games

Drawing The Line On Political Protest At The Games

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Chinese officials are telling President Bush to mind his own business. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says that the U.S. and China disagree on human rights, but should not interfere in each other's internal affairs. That remark comes in response to a speech Mr. Bush made as he traveled toward Beijing for the Olympics.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: So America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.

MONTAGNE: In a few minutes, we'll hear more about the president's final months in office. We begin with the subject of his speech: the way China's government handles dissent. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on what happens to those who don't feel like joining China's festive moment.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

ANTHONY KUHN: Beijing was outwardly colorful and festive as the Olympic torch made its way through Tiananmen Square yesterday and atop the Great Wall today. Government-vetted crowds shouted officially approved cheers as phalanxes of riot police stood at the ready in the underground passageways leading to Tiananmen Square.

On TV at least, China portrays itself as radiating strength and confidence.

(Soundbite of television broadcast)

Mr. BAI YANSONG (China Central Television): (Chinese spoken)

KUHN: Openness and tolerance are the signs of a nation's greatness and power, said China Central Television presenter Bai Yansong on one recent Olympic-themed show.

Many dissenting voices in China have already been silenced. Authorities continue to sweep the capital, hunting for petitioners who come to protest injustice out in the provinces. It's a holdover from imperial China when commoners could come petition the emperor.

Fifty-seven-year-old petitioner Huang Fengdeng said he had just been detained and was being held in a local government liaison office in Beijing from where he would be sent back in his home in southwest Chongqing City.

Mr. HUANG FENGDENG (Petitioner): (Chinese spoken)

KUHN: I was told I could come back here in November, he said, but that petitioning was not allowed in Beijing during the Olympics.

Many petitioners have been sent home already. The Olympics was originally going to be a good thing, but the government has used it to create fear and further violate people's human rights. The Liaison Office denied they were holding any petitioners.

Some human rights activists are either under house arrest or were forced to leave Beijing during the Olympics. But not all. Police initially ordered human rights lawyer Li Baiguang out of town during the games, but then told him he could come back this week. He says it might have something to do with his two meetings with President Bush, the most recent in June.

Mr. LI BAIGUANG (Human Rights Lawyer): (Through translator) After visiting the White House, I feel there's been a change in my own personal safety. I can tell from what the police told me: You're an old friend of President Bush's, they said. You're entitled to VIP treatment. So they deal with different people in different ways.

KUHN: Beijing can point to several recent measures as proof of increased openness. They've loosened restrictions on foreign journalists, lifted blocks on some overseas Web sites and designated Olympic protest zones in three public parks. But critics dismiss these as half measures.

Many Web sites remain censored, and foreign journalists still often face harassment. Political commentator Zhang Zuhua notes that anyone who wants to make use of the protest zones has to apply five days in advance.

Mr. ZHANG ZUHUA (Political Commentator): (Through translator) They never approve the applications. Since the protest and demonstration law was passed in 1989, they've only approved two protests in all of China, and they have limited them to fewer than 20 people. It's really a joke.

KUHN: Zhang himself is currently under house arrest. Former Communist Party Central Committee member Bao Tong also lives under house arrest, but is able to give interviews. He says concessions on human rights were never part of Beijing's plan.

Mr. BAO TONG (Former Communist Party Central Committee Member): (Through translator) Their aim is to display the power of the one-party dictatorship. It's to say a dictatorship can be prosperous and stable. We can make dissenting voices disappear. Poor people? We erect a wall and nobody can see them. Dissenting voices? We ban reporting on them. And if someone does report, then we say it's a trivial matter. There's your harmony.

KUHN: Bao says the government's objectives are limited. He recalls that when Beijing first applied to host the games in 1993, it was still suffering from sanctions after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Mr. BAO: (Through translator) China's original aim in hosting the Olympics was to break out of its isolation. China does not hope for the international community to welcome it. It hopes that the international community will acknowledge it.

KUHN: Bao points out that Beijing has a lot to dazzle visitors, from ancient culture to newly acquired wealth. It can claim to have spent the most money on any Olympic Games yet. But Beijing's silencing of dissent, Bao says, means there's one often-stated goal it can't reach: to host the best Olympic Games ever.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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