Protests unlikely if law is enforced
Rally zones will be empty if rules applied
If the rules are applied strictly, authorities in Beijing will probably not have to worry about the protest zones during the Olympic Games - they are likely to remain empty.
The security director of the Games organisers Bocog, Liu Shaowu, said on Wednesday that three protest zones would be set up in three Beijing parks - raising hopes that the moves might signal a loosening of security control during the Games.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao yesterday confirmed demonstrators would have to comply with existing stringent laws - rules that rarely permit protests.
'If you want to find the answers [on how to protest during the Olympics] you just need to go to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Assemblies, Processions and Demonstrations,' he said.
The law is crammed with a host of strict criteria that must be met before being sent for approval by several layers of bureaucracy.
They include the name of the person in charge, protest topic, the nature of slogans and posters, the number of megaphones, the route and timetable. Applications will be rejected if they threaten the constitution or national sovereignty.
Applications must be made to the relevant Public Security Bureau five days in advance, and police can delay the protest for up to five days - or simply reject the application just two days before the planned start.
Above all, according to a strict reading of the law, it would be illegal for mainland citizens 'who do not reside' in Beijing to apply for or to join a demonstration.
In the unlikely event of an application being successful, police can detain demonstrators for up to 15 days if they use different posters and slogans, change the timetable or the topic of the demonstration.
Foreigners wishing to protest must apply for permission just to attend a demonstration, the law states.
However, with just 14 days to go to the Olympics, several questions remain unanswered.
The Foreign Ministry, Bocog and the Beijing Municipal Government Public Security Bureau have yet to confirm when the park zones will open or if all protests will be confined to the three parks all situated away from main venues - Beijing World in Fengtai district, Purple Bamboo in Haidian and Ritan in Chaoyang.
Protest pens first appeared at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and again four years ago in Athens. They were created because section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter bars demonstrations or 'political, religious or racial propaganda' from all designated venues.
In Sydney, demonstrations were only allowed in two areas, one in the city and one close to the main venue.
A spokesman for the Greek Olympic committee, Tassos Papachristou, said protest areas set up in Athens during the 2004 Games were rendered redundant because under Greek law 'demonstrators have a right to protest anywhere'.
During one of several protests during the Games, police fired tear gas at anti-war demonstrators marching in protest against then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, attending the closing ceremony.
But one mainland rights lawyer said he hoped the zones could bring change. 'Even if the law is stringent, if the authorities relax a little in applying it, there will be room for protests,' Xu Zhiyong said.