Thursday, August 21, 2008

BEIJING | Two elderly Chinese women who applied during the Olympic Games to protest the loss of their homes were ordered to spend a year in a labor camp, a relative said Wednesday, as more foreign activists were detained.

The women were still at home three days after being officially notified but were under the observation of a neighborhood watch group, said Li Xuehui, the son of one of the women.

A rights group said the threat of prison appeared to be an intimidation tactic.

Mr. Li said no cause was given for the order to imprison his mother, Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbor Wang Xiuying, 77.

“Wang Xiuying is almost blind and crippled. What sort of re-education through labor can she serve?” Mr. Li said.

The order followed the pair’s repeated attempts to apply for permission to hold a protest at one of three areas designated by the government as available for demonstrations during the games, which end Sunday.

Some 77 applications were lodged to hold protests but none went ahead, and rights groups say the zones were just a way for the Chinese government to put on an appearance of complying with international standards. A handful who sought a permit to demonstrate were taken away by security officials, rights groups said.

“This is part of the tough tactics used to intimidate and silence protesters,” said Nicholas Bequelin of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Li said Mrs. Wu and Mrs. Wang were ordered to serve a yearlong term of re-education through labor. The family was notified Sunday, but officials had not acted on the order by Wednesday.

The re-education system, in place since 1957, allows police to sidestep the need for a criminal trial or a formal charge and directly send people to prison to perform penal labor.

A spokeswoman for the Beijing re-education through labor bureau said, “We have no records of these two names in our system.”

Mr. Li said Mrs. Wu and Mrs. Wang have been fighting for their cause since being kicked out of their Beijing homes in 2001 to make way for redevelopment.

Meanwhile, an activist group said five American bloggers have been detained since early Tuesday in Beijing. The bloggers, who did not have media credentials, were protesting China’s policies in Tibet, said Kate Woznow, campaign director for the New York-based Students for a Free Tibet.

They were the latest of more than a dozen foreign activists who have been detained in Beijing this month for launching similar protests. Most have been quickly deported.

Also Tuesday, five Americans who unfurled a “Free Tibet” banner near an Olympics venue were detained along with U.S. graffiti practitioner James Powderly, who planned to use laser beams to flash a similar message on buildings in Beijing. The banner protesters have been released but Mr. Powderly was still detained, Ms. Woznow said.

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