Thursday, June 05, 2008

China's wacky but worrisome Olympic rules

Aileen McCabe, Asia Correspondent , Canwest News Service

Published: 4 hours ago SHANGHAI - China's new rules for foreigners attending the Olympics have already caused smirks and raised eyebrows, but a human rights watchdog is warning they may also contain a "trap" for the unwary.

Human Rights in China (HRIC) said Thursday that amidst all the dos and don'ts listed in the legal guidelines, a major concern is one prohibiting "carrying out of China documents or other materials that are classified as state secrets."

The New York-based group claims this is a catch-all phrase that could be used to entrap ordinary visitors.

Olympic visitors will be allowed to bring one cat or dog per person to the Games.

Olympic visitors will be allowed to bring one cat or dog per person to the Games.

Gohh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images

It warned: "The state secrets laws and regulations are extremely broad and provide for retroactive classification, such that everything can potentially be classified as a state secret."

In recent years, the Chinese government has classified as "state secrets" such commonplace information as the number of workers laid off by state-owned enterprises and the data on water and solid waste pollution in cities, it said.

HRIC also warned that if you get caught with so-called "state secrets" in your possession, finding a lawyer in China to defend you could be difficult.

It noted that many of the "human rights" lawyers who bravely and publicly offered to defend Tibetans jailed during the Lhasa riots in March are now having major problems getting their law licences renewed by the government.

The "Legal Guidelines for Foreigners Entering, Exiting and Staying in China during the Olympics," was published this week on the Beijing Olympic Committee's website in Mandarin only. By posing 57 questions and answering them, the booklet attempts to give visitors to the Games a quick lesson on how things work in the Middle Kingdom.

Understandably, the rules say no guns, no banned drugs and no pornography can be brought into the country. And, of course, no suspected terrorists will be allowed to enter.

The rules, however, also forbid entry to "those who are suffering from a mental disorder or insanity."

On the bright side, one cat or dog per person will be allowed into China.

And for those with delicate stomachs and large suitcases, the rules say every foreigner can bring "food for the purpose of consumption for the duration of their time in China; the quantity is limited to one packet of each food item per day."

In the summer, it is common for Chinese - even in big cities - to drag their beds or mats onto the sidewalk, hoping to catch a breeze while they sleep.

But the government has proscribed such uncivilized behaviour this August, particularly by foreigners.

"In order to maintain public hygiene and the civilized appearance of urban areas," the rule book says, "sleeping in airports, bus or train stations, docks, sidewalks (including overpasses and underground walkways), green areas and other public places is strictly prohibited."

Public demonstrations, rallies and marches are also prohibited, without permission. Moreover, according to the rules: "China forbids the display of insulting slogans, banners and similar items in sports venues and forbids the display of any religious, political, or ethnic slogans or banners in Olympic stadiums."

For many travellers, coming to China for the Olympics will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and many are expected to stay on after the Games to see the country - at least the areas of it they are allowed to visit.

"Not all parts of China are presently open to foreigners," the booklet states. "Foreigners without appropriate permission should not travel to prohibited areas."

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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