China has decided to allow protesters at the Olympics (but not really.)

Beijing will permit public protests inside three designated city parks during next month’s Olympic Games, but demonstrators must first obtain permits from local police and also abide by Chinese laws that usually make it nearly impossible to legally picket over politically charged issues, the authorities announced Wednesday.

The arrangement marks a break from normal practice in China’s authoritarian political system and seems loosely modeled on the protest zones created at previous Olympic Games and at many recent international political gatherings that attract large numbers of protesters.

So the parks are nowhere near the Games, permits are given out or withheld on the whim of the government, and it’s against the law to picket over issues that would bother the government anyway. You need to apply five days in advance of your protest, and the Olympics start in sixteen days.

Far from loosening up, Beijing has been cracking down on dissenters with increasing energy as the Games approach to guarantee a smooth show on the world stage.

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