China quick to stifle Olympic protests

Efforts by activists to step up their Olympic-based protests met with a Chinese crackdown today.

Efforts by activists to step up their Olympic-based protests met with a Chinese crackdown today.

The protest groups so far have been small and police have acted with relative restraint. No arrests have been reported, although the Beijing Olympics organizing committee has condemned the demonstrations.

At least two women who protested being evicted from their homes ahead of the Olympics were taken to a police station.

Zhang Wei and Ma Xiulan, have made repeated public objections about losing their traditional family compounds near Tiananmen Square.

Ma said: “The police are watching me and are restricting my phone use. They are not letting me talk to reporters, especially the foreign media. I’m here because I talked to the foreign media before.”

Qianmen, the historic area where Zhang and Ma lived, is south of Tiananmen Square and has undergone a huge makeover to make way for a commercial strip housing businesses such as Nike and Starbucks that opened today.

Thousands of people have been forced from courtyard homes that have been passed down for generations to make way for the redevelopment, part of larger relocations throughout Beijing as a property boom transforms the city’s landscape.

Meanwhile, a second protest by three Americans in Tiananmen Square was stopped by security agents who blocked the group from view with umbrellas before grabbing their arms and leading them away.

The agents also blocked reporters from filming the incident.

A day earlier, the trio, including anti-abortion activist Rev. Patrick Mahoney, spent almost an hour in the square criticising the government’s handling of issues ranging from forced abortions to pro-democracy demonstrations, in 1989. They also unfurled a banner that said “Christ is King.”

Foreigners who protest at Beijing’s human rights record or official policy of atheism on Chinese soil normally face deportation. Chinese who demonstrate face detention and hours of questioning by police, at the very least.

The government also has used its visa rules to try to keep out foreigners who might want to protest. Former Olympic speedskater and Darfur campaigner Joey Cheek had his visa cancelled yesterday, hours before he was to travel to Beijing.

Jill Savitt, executive director of Dream for Darfur, a group trying to pressure China to use its influence as a major trading partner of Sudan to improve security in the ravaged region, was also denied a visa.

She works with American actress Mia Farrow, who will be broadcasting from a Sudanese refugee camp in neighbouring Chad during the first week of the Beijing Olympics to highlight China’s involvement in the region.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court accuse Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of genocide in Darfur, where up to 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million chased from their homes in fighting since early 2003.

China is widely believed to be Sudan’s chief provider of small arms and, through its state-owned companies, Beijing controls nearly all of Sudan’s oil potential.

“The tragedies could not continue without the ongoing support of Beijing,” Farrow said today from Chad. “Shame on them and shame on the Olympics committee for choosing Beijing and putting the athletes in this untenable position.”

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