Elderly women sentenced to "re-education" in China

The New York Times is reporting that two elderly Chinese women have been sentenced to a year of "re-education through labor" after they repeatedly sought a permit to demonstrate in one of the official Olympic protest areas.

The women, ages 79 and 77, one of whom is said to be nearly blind, visited the police at least five times this month in hopes of obtaining permission to protest what they argued was inadequate compensation for the demolition of their homes in Beijing. Their homes were just two of hundreds flattened to make way for a redevelopment project.

During their final visit this week, Public Security officials informed them that they had been given administrative sentences for disturbing the public order.

Re-education through labor seeks to reform political and religious dissenters and those charged with minor crimes like petty theft. Many of those sentenced toil in agricultural or factory work and are forced to confess their transgressions. Government officials say that currently 290,000 people are being detained in re-education centers.

Human rights advocates have long criticized the system because punishment is handed down by officials without trial or means of appeal.

In late July, the Chinese government announced that they were designating venues in three city parks as "protest zones" during the Olympics. The 77 people who submitted protest applications were turned down, and so far no demonstrations have taken place. A number of those who attempted to file applications have been detained, including a farmer who was hoping to publicize government corruption and two rights advocates who have not been heard from since they were seized at the Public Security Bureau's protest application office last week.

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