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China to Allow ‘Protest Lite’

Posted on Jul 23, 2008
Chinese Police
AP photo / Ng Han Guan

Police watch members of a press freedom group protesting outside the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee headquarters last August. China’s authoritarian government has a history of keeping dissent on a short leash.

Taking cues from past Olympic protests and the U.S.‘s notoriously ironic “free speech zones,” the Chinese government has declared its openness to dissidents criticizing the state—so long as dissent is contained in one of three areas, does not threaten vague notions of national unity, and is submitted five days beforehand to the local security bureau.

The New York Times:

Beijing will permit public protests inside three designated city parks during next month’s Olympic Games, but demonstrators must first obtain permits from local police and also abide by Chinese laws that usually make it nearly impossible to legally picket over politically charged issues, the authorities announced Wednesday.

The arrangement marks a break from normal practice in China’s authoritarian political system and seems loosely modeled on the protest zones created at previous Olympic Games and at many recent international political gatherings that attract large numbers of protesters.

But it remained unclear whether international advocacy groups on issues like Tibet, Darfur and broader human rights would be able to secure the bureaucratic approvals needed to use the protest zones and whether they would be arrested if they held demonstrations elsewhere in Beijing.

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