Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying....two women, both in their late 70s, have never spoken out against China's authoritarian government. Both walk with the help of a cane, and Wang is blind in one eye.
Their grievance, receiving insufficient compensation when their homes were seized for redevelopment, is perhaps the most common complaint among Chinese displaced during the country's long streak of fast economic growth.
But the Beijing police still sentenced the two women to an extrajudicial term of "re-education through labor" this week for applying to hold a legal protest in a designated area in Beijing, where officials promised that Chinese could hold demonstrations during the Olympic Games.
They became the most recent examples of people punished for submitting applications to protest. A few would-be demonstrators have simply disappeared, at least for the duration of the Games, squelching already diminished hopes that the influx of foreigners and the prestige of holding the Games would push China's leaders to relax their tight grip on political expression.
....The announcement that the police had set up special protest zones was initially greeted as a positive if modest step that could allow Chinese a new channel to voice grievances otherwise ignored by party authorities and the state-run media.
"In order to ensure smooth traffic flow, a nice environment and good social order, we will invite these participants to hold their demonstrations in designated places," Liu Shaowu, the security director for Beijing's Olympic organizing committee, said at a news conference. He described the creation of three so-called protest zones and suggested that a simple application process would provide Chinese citizens an avenue for free expression, a right that has long been enshrined in China's Constitution but in reality is rarely granted.
But with four days left before the closing ceremonies, the authorities acknowledge that they have yet to allow a single protest. They claim that most of the people who filed applications had their grievances addressed, obviating the need for a public expression of discontent.