Free speech, Olympic style

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images Moving to disarm critics and follow through on promises made to the International Olympic Committee, China announced yesterday that it will allow demonstrations in special “protest pens“: three public parks that are no closer than several miles to the Olympic Stadium. Unsurprisingly, activists are unmoved. Demonstrations must first obtain formal approval by ...

593759_080724_beijing5.jpg
593759_080724_beijing5.jpg

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

Moving to disarm critics and follow through on promises made to the International Olympic Committee, China announced yesterday that it will allow demonstrations in special "protest pens": three public parks that are no closer than several miles to the Olympic Stadium.

Unsurprisingly, activists are unmoved. Demonstrations must first obtain formal approval by local police, and it's not clear whether Chinese laws banning political protest "harmful to national unity and social stability" will apply:

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

Moving to disarm critics and follow through on promises made to the International Olympic Committee, China announced yesterday that it will allow demonstrations in special “protest pens“: three public parks that are no closer than several miles to the Olympic Stadium.

Unsurprisingly, activists are unmoved. Demonstrations must first obtain formal approval by local police, and it’s not clear whether Chinese laws banning political protest “harmful to national unity and social stability” will apply:

We never get it no matter how many times we try,” said Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer and legal-rights advocate who has been rejected numerous times [attempting to schedule a protest]. “This is only a show for foreigners. Otherwise, I’d love to see these three places be kept after the Olympics so we can let our voices be heard, too.”

That said, such “free-speech zones” are really nothing new for the Olympics. They’ve also been employed at other large international gatherings such as the G-8, as well as American political conventions. China certainly stands out for its political suppression before and after the Olympics, but during the games, for better or for worse, it’s par for the course.

Patrick Fitzgerald is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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