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Waiting for answers

Posted by Patricia Wen, Globe Staff  August 23, 2008 11:47 AM

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OLYMPIC MAIN PRESS CENTER - As the games come to a close here this weekend, I know many fans will dwell on medal numbers. But there's another set of numbers that really sticks with me.

Of the 149 people - nearly all Chinese citizens - who submitted nearly 80 applications to protest in designated parks during the Olympics, none - zero - were approved by the government. These rejections come after the government had authorized this application process, at the suggestion of the International Olympic Committee. It was designed to keep protests - about everything from Tibet and domestic land seizures - orderly and away from the Olympic sites.

According to the state's news agency this week, of the 77 applications, 74 were withdrawn because the problems cited were "addressed" by the relevant authorities, two were suspended because of incomplete information, and one was rejected because it was "in violation of China's laws on demonstrations and protests."

This leads to the obvious question for any thinking person: Were the "protest parks" a charade to fool the Chinese people - and the media?

As a parting act, I am taking up the Chinese government on a different application process introduced during the Olympics. As part of its vow of greater openness with the foreign media about a range of issues related to the games, they have made available an official "application form of accredited journalists" to facilitate interview and informational inquiries. Like the 149 people who took advantage of the protest zone process, I'm here as a journalist to give this one a try.

My written request (written in English and Chinese to facilitate communication) asks the Beijing Public Security Bureau to tell me the home province of each of the petitioners, and what each grievances was about. Wanting to be as reasonable as possible, I have asked for a response within 10 days, and given my Boston contact information so they can respond when I return to the U.S.

Perhaps the Chinese will see this request as part of the "biased" foreign media - a term used just yesterday by Wang Wei, spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Committee, during a testy press conference here. He had fielded one too many questions about isolated detentions of Westerners who had unfurled Tibetan flags. And inquiries about the pair of elderly Chinese women sentenced to "reform through labor" when they protested their forced removal from their homes.

He wanted the media to focus more on the near-flawless operation of the Olympics -- that some 10,000 athletes competed in 28 different sports in 37 competition venues that gave inspiration - and entertainment - to millions and millions of spectators all over the world. T.V. Olympic viewership globally and domestically reached all-time highs.

Wang went on to say to reporters, "Tell the true story, please."

Surely that is a goal that many journalists here share. I'm hoping for an answer to my inquiry.

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4 comments so far...
  1. Your application says Application Form of Accredited Journalists. How is that an application for protesting at the park? I don't see anything on this form that even remotely relates to protesting. Could that be the reason why you don't have an answer? Did you use the wrong application???

    Posted by Tony August 24, 08 11:54 PM
  1. Patricia, I would be very surprised if you got a response. There is no FoIA in China, as far as I know, so the authority is not obligated to tell you anything. This is obviously a bad-faith PR stunt by the Chinese government, but I am sorry to say that you didn't seem to make the request in good faith either. Ten days? I seriously doubt even the US government can respond to a FOIA request within ten days. If you are serious about this issue, you ought to stay there and put up pressure until you get an answer (obviously, that would be the job of a foreign correspondent). Otherwise, it's a cheap attempt to pile on and "report" something everybody already knows, which is not responsible journalism. I challenge you and the Globe to find out what really happened to these 77 applications.

    Posted by JL August 25, 08 01:32 AM
  1. The chinese system of government cannot handle the truth, does not want the spotlight shone upon their many transgressions against their own people and is able to get away with their barbaric behavior because the rest of countries taking part in the Olympics do not possess the collective will to call them out on their many shortcomings and outright failures as a supposed civilized society!

    Posted by You can't handle the truth! August 25, 08 03:54 AM
  1. "And inquiries about the pair of elderly Chinese women sentenced to "reform through labor" when they protested their forced removal from their homes."

    seriously, can you guys get anything right? The NY Times reported those two old ladies are still stayed in their homes, or under home probation. It's just a trick the cops used: don't cause any trouble. Their "arrest" is not because their repeated application for protest, but because they set off firework in front of CCP headquarter (equal to the White House) and caused traffic chaos.

    Posted by Pat August 26, 08 01:08 AM

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