Civil Liberties

China's Free Speech Sting


Remember those protest zones that Chinese officials promised to set up for people who wanted to criticize the government during the Olympics? It turns out they weren't really needed:

Officials say that they received 77 protest applications but that nearly all of them were dropped after the complaints were "properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations."…

At a news conference on Wednesday, Wang Wei, the vice president of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee, was asked about the lack of protests. He said it showed the system was working. "I'm glad to hear that over 70 protest issues have been solved through consultation, dialogue," he said. "This is a part of Chinese culture."

One way of solving protest issues is re-education through forced labor. Two frail old women were arrested for "disturbing public order" and peremptorily sentenced to a year in a labor camp after they applied for permission to protest the way they were screwed over when the government seized their homes for redevelopment. (They were never compensated and never given the new apartments they were promised.) Police told them they could avoid serving their sentences if they shut up and stayed out of sight. This, evidently, is a part of Chinese culture.

Some observers say the arrests of people seeking permission to protest may indicate intragovernment dissension. Others think "the authorities were using the possibility of legal demonstrations as a ploy to lure restive citizens into declaring their intention to protest, allowing the police to take action against them."