Could protests upstage the Games?

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Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, July 28, 2008

Canadian TV recently ran this story about the prospects of protests upsetting the Games. As you might have heard, Beijing has created three sanctioned protest areas, though to protest at these venues, you first have to get approval from the authorities, which itself could take two weeks.

Could protests derail Beijing Games' plans?

Andy Johnson, News
July 27, 2008 7:32 AM ET

With the Olympics just weeks away, China is racing to clean up and clamp down, working quietly and fervently to present the best possible face to the world.

That means a powerful -- but mostly silent and secret -- campaign is underway, according to one security analyst, to minimize the risk of protests and demonstrations that could mar the event.

Former CSIS agent Michel Juneau-Katsuya told that human rights could very likely go by the wayside amid the push.

"We've got to understand that for the Chinese government, their sensitivity is much higher than the Western world and Western governments," Juneau-Katsuya said.

"They do not want to lose face, they do not want to look like they are ill-prepared."

As a result, he says, a mostly-invisible pre-emptive crack-down is currently underway, and the momentum will increase leading up to the opening ceremonies on Aug. 8.

"What will be more interesting than anything else from my point of view is what you will not see -- which will be the tremendous number of plainclothes intelligence officers, plainclothes police, plainclothes military and the surveillance of all media communications that you can think of."

In addition, intense scrutiny will be placed upon those groups within China that pose a threat, Juneau-Katsuya says. That includes Tibetans and their sympathizers, Falun Gong members as well as Christian and Muslim minorities that may try to use the event to get their messages out to the world.

Public protests will be allowed in some cases, however. The Chinese government has announced activists can legally protest in three designated city parks, though they'll need a permit from local police before they do, and must follow restrictive rules.

Juneau-Katsuya said China has been following the example set by the U.S. and other nations to use the threat of terrorism as a justification to use sometimes harsh, pre-emptive measures.

In April, Beijing even made the broad accusation that Tibetans were planning suicide attacks -- an allegation that was dismissed by many as ridiculous.

'Mass collection process'

A key form of intelligence-gathering for the Chinese, Juneau-Katsuya said, is a method known as the "mass collection process" -- a system he said is now in full swing.

"They recruit a great, great number of people at key positions - translators, tour guides, hotel staff, communications staff, restaurant staff, people at key locations, you name it," Juneau-Katsuya said.

"There will be tons and tons and tons of people that have been recruited and will be debriefed on a regular basis by Chinese intelligence officials and police officials. Their responsibility will be to watch."

The preventative efforts aren't limited to within China. Juneau-Katsuya said diplomatic officials in Chinese embassies and consulates around the world have been collecting lists of names for months. Those lists represent people abroad who could attempt to enter China in order to protest -- and who will be blacklisted from entering the country.

Tsering Lama, director of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), has faced such measures. She was denied a visa to enter Hong Kong ahead of the Olympic torch rally, and was then interrogated before being deported back to Canada.

She and other members of the group had planned to hold a news conference to coincide with the torch rally on May 2, as part of the group's efforts to highlight human rights abuses in Tibet and their struggle for autonomy from China.

Lama recently said she personally has no hope of getting into China during the Games -- or possibly ever -- but the group is trying to get the message out through different means. They are actively trying to recruit athletes sympathetic to their cause through their Athlete Wanted campaign.

"At many Olympics, there are athletes that inspire the world with their courage and character. We're hoping one athlete will do that at this Olympics," Lama said.

She wouldn't say whether the group has managed to secretly recruit any Canadian athletes to its cause -- or what their role could be -- but it's clear that SFT hopes to make the best of the Olympic spotlight to illuminate its message.

'Ambassadors of freedom'

The role that athletes will play is a major question mark. U.S. President George Bush has called on American competitors to be "ambassadors of freedom," while China retorted by urging them to "promote friendship among the peoples of the world."

Canada's flag-bearer Adam van Koeverden, meanwhile, told Canada AM the Games are an "opportunity for dialogue" about issues that affect China such as Tibet's fight for independence.

While the scope and size of any pro-Tibet demonstrations are still in question, one thing is not, said Kunga Tsering of the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario. If there are protests, they will be non-violent, he guaranteed.

"The Dalai Lama has given clear instructions there should be no violence -- Tibetans will follow," he said.

With so many groups striving to make their voices heard

But no one can predict how successful China will be in keeping a lid on protests since so many are willing to make a personal sacrifice to get their message out to the world

Juneau-Katsuya said it is possible there will be incidences "left and right."

"They will probably be swiftly taken care of, and if the camera wasn't there we might never hear of them, but that's going to be the challenge, that's going to be the problem," he said.

"There will definitely be attempts, but their success will be variable and their duration will be short."
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