At least two women who have protested being evicted from their homes ahead of the Olympics were taken to a police station amid ramped up efforts by activists to use the games to spotlight their causes.
Zhang Wei and Ma Xiulan, who have been vocal about the pain of losing their family compounds near Tiananmen Square to make way for Olympic construction, were taken from their homes late Wednesday and early Thursday, according to Ma.
Also Thursday, a Hong Kong lawmaker said immigration officials deported three U.S.-based Chinese pro-democracy activists after denying them entry to the territory, which is hosting the Olympic equestrian events.
The efforts are part of stringent security measures for the games by Chinese communist authorities determined that the Olympics should be an international showcase for the country.
With the world's eyes turned on Beijing in anticipation of the games, which start Friday, activists have stepped up their protests to publicize their causes.
The groups so far have been small and police have acted with relative restraint. No arrests were reported although the Beijing Olympics organizing committee condemned the demonstrations.
'Police are watching me'
Ma said officers came to her door at 2 a.m. and bruised her arm while grabbing her. Reached by the AP on her cell phone, she said she was at a local police station with Zhang and a number of other residents but could not give any other details.
"The police are watching me and are restricting my phone use," Ma said. "They are not letting me talk to reporters, especially the foreign media. I'm here because I talked to the foreign media before," Ma said before quickly hanging up.
A woman who answered Zhang's cell phone said Zhang had been taken away a little before midnight by two police offers and one plainclothes security agent. She refused to give her name for fear of official retribution and would only say she was a family member.
Two officers who answered the telephone at the police station where Ma said she was being held said no one had been detained and refused to give any more information because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Qianmen, the historic area where the homes of Zhang and Ma were located, is south of Tiananmen Square and has undergone a huge makeover to make way for a commercial strip with businesses such as Nike, Starbucks and Rolex.
A former resident in the neighborhood who had been planning to display a protest banner on the street was surrounded by plainclothes security agents and led away. He tried to speak to AP reporters before the agents used their hands to block the cameras.
Thousands of people have been forced from courtyard homes that have been passed down for generations to make way for the redevelopment, part of larger relocations throughout Beijing as a property boom transforms the city's landscape.
Earlier this week, some 20 people angry about their evictions from Qianmen demonstrated near Tiananmen Square in a rare protest around the tightly guarded area. The demonstrators scuffled with neighborhood officials as police watched.
Three Americans led away
Also on Thursday, a second protest in Tiananmen Square by three Americans promoting religious freedom was stopped by security agents, including at least one plainclothes police officer, who blocked the group from view with umbrellas before grabbing their arms and leading them away.
Another group of foreigners, pro-Tibet activists, were detained Wednesday after climbing up lamp poles outside the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, and putting up banners proclaiming "Free Tibet."
Two of the four detained activists from Students for a Free Tibet — both of them British — were deported to Frankfurt, Germany, group spokesman Matt Whitticase said Thursday.
The other two, Americans Phill Bartell from Denver, Colo., and Tirian Mink from Portland, Ore., were also deported and en route to San Francisco on Thursday.
Foreigners who protest Beijing's human rights record or official policy of atheism on Chinese soil normally face deportation. Chinese who demonstrate would face detention and hours of questioning by police, at the very least.
The government also has used its visa rules to try to keep out foreigners who might want to protest. Former Olympic speedskater and Darfur campaigner Joey Cheek had his visa pulled Wednesday, hours before he was to travel to Beijing.
Jill Savitt, executive director of Dream for Darfur, an initiative that has sought to pressure China to use its influence as a major trading partner of Sudan to improve security in the ravaged region, was also denied a visa.
Savitt works with actress Mia Farrow, who will be broadcasting from a Sudanese refugee camp in neighboring Chad during the first week of the Beijing Olympics to highlight China's involvement in the region.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court accuse Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of carrying out genocide in Darfur, where up to 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million chased from their homes in fighting since early 2003.
China is widely believed to be Sudan's chief provider of small arms and, through its state-owned companies, Beijing controls nearly all of Sudan's oil potential.
"The tragedies could not continue without the ongoing support of Beijing," Farrow said Thursday during a teleconference from Chad. "Shame on them and shame on the Olympics committee for choosing Beijing and putting the athletes in this untenable position."
In the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, immigration officials denied Yang Jianli, Wang Min and Zhou Jian entry but did not give a reason, opposition lawmaker Albert Ho told The Associated Press.
Ho said he wasn't sure if the activists, who had been allowed to enter Hong Kong in the past, had planned to protest.