Two elderly Chinese women who applied to demonstrate at official Olympic protest zones have been ordered to serve one year each of reeducation through labour, a close relative said Wednesday.
In the latest signal that China's leaders will tolerate no dissent during the Games, Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, were interrogated for 10 hours and sentenced to one year of "Reeducaton Through Labour," said Wu's son Li Xuehui
"We will surely take legal action because what the police are doing is against the spirit of law," he told AFP.
China is using the August 8-24 Games to showcase its emergence as a world power and has cracked down on groups or individuals it fears could tarnish that image, according to human rights experts.
The two old women, forcibly evicted from their Beijing homes in 2001, had applied five times for permits to protest during the Games, according to Li.
Under the police order, the pair are spared immediate detention but will be sent off to camp if they cause more trouble, he said.
An official at the Beijing Public Security Bureau said Wednesday they had no information on the cases, and asked AFP to fax a request for details.
China promised to improve its human rights record when it was awarded the right to host the Olympic Games seven years ago.
Last month China's government said it would set up three protest zones for use by demonstrators during the August 8-24 Games, but Beijing police have said that not a single protest had been formally approved.
The vast bulk of the 77 applications were withdrawn because the relevant authorities had addressed the problems through "consultations", police said.
International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies said she would investigate the case of Wu and Wang, and that she hoped the protest areas would be allowed to serve their purpose.
"We would of course welcome that the areas are genuinely used," she told a press conference.
Davies also said that overall the staging of the Games in China had been a positive force for change.
"The IOC decision to come to Beijing was that opening and engaging was the way forward ... we see that just by being here and discussing issues that fall outside the sporting remit that is hapenning," she said.
Human Rights in China, the New York-based rights group, said the case illustrated that the protest parks were a sham.
"Punishing Wu and Wang after they applied for protest permits ... demonstrates that the official statements touting the new Olympics 'protest zones,' as well as the permit application process, were no more than a show," said Sharon Hom, director for China for the non-government group.
Nicolas Bequelin, a China expert at Human Rights Watch, said the case highlighted many of the human rights concerns related to the Games.
He referred to the forced evacuation of thousands of Beijing residents to make way for new development and the arbitrary nature of China's judicial system.
"The case is not unique but it encapsulates so many issues," he said.
Wu and Wang have been unsuccessfully petitioning the government for compensation ever since they were forcibly evicted from their homes in 2001.
Other Chinese and foreigners have also been targetted for trying to protest during the Olympics including Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident seeking compensation for her demolished home who is now serving 30 days in custody for 'disturbing public order', her son Mi Yu said.
Several foreigners have been detained and deported after staging protests over China's role in Tibet.