Elderly pair punished for daring to protest

John Garnaut and Mary-Anne Toy in Beijing
August 21, 2008

THE Chinese Government has gone to new extremes to prevent anyone from protesting in its three official Olympic protest parks, with two elderly residents each ordered to serve a year's "re-education through labour".

The protest applicants were not linked to movements which the Chinese state usually regards as subversive, such as Free Tibet or Falun Gong.

Rather, neighbours Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, who is blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other, were both Christian, loved China, loved the Beijing Olympics and were only seeking due compensation for being forcibly evicted from their homes at Qianqiao, near Tiananmen Square, to Ms Wu's son, Li Xuehui, said.

Mr Li said the elderly pair had been moved to sub-standard houses.

"My mother and Mr Wang are very old. They have always done everything legally; they don't understand why [the Government] is doing this," he said.

The Beijing Olympics organising committee vice-president, Wang Wei, said yesterday he was unaware of the case: "I think there must be some other reason behind it if they are detained and educated for a year It can't just be because they are sending petitions to protest."

Mr Wang said he would inquire about the case but insisted it was not the Games organisers' responsibility. Earlier, when asked to explain why most protest applications were withdrawn, he said it was due to successful mediation which was the "Chinese way" and may not be understood by foreigners.

After repeated requests to BOCOG and the Beijing Public Security Bureau for figures on protest park applications, the official newsagency Xinhua revealed 77 applications had been made and none granted.

The executive director of Human Rights in China, Sharon Hom, said the orders against Ms Wu and Mr Wang demonstrated that official statements about special Olympic protest zones "were no more than show".

Mr Li said three Beijing Government policemen were polite and almost apologetic when they handed his mother and Mr Wang their labour orders on Sunday for "disturbing the public order".

He said the pair were told they could serve their sentences at home rather than in a labour camp provided they abided by movement restrictions.

The orders were dated July 30, indicating they were activated only after Ms Wu and Mr Wang persisted in making five protest park applications to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Security Administration Unit in the 10 days to August 15.

Public security officials interrogated the pair for 10 hours after their first application on August 5.

Chinese people who watch the Olympics on television or at Olympic venues are mostly excited by the carnival atmosphere and proud of China's unprecedented sporting success.

Mr Li said Mr Wang's family had watched the August 8 opening ceremony on television at a hotel with local police officers, because the house he had been moved to had a leaking roof and no electricity.

with Maya Li