Chinese authorities have reversed their decision and will not send two elderly women to a labor camp after they applied for a protest permit during the Olympics, a human rights group said Saturday.
No reason was given for the reversal, New York-based Human Rights in China said in a statement. The Public Security Bureau had no immediate comment.
On Aug. 17, authorities sentenced Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbor Wang Xiuying, 77, to a year of re-education through labor for "disturbing the public order." The sentence provoked widespread international criticism.
The order followed the pair's repeated attempts to apply for permission to hold a protest against being forced from their homes at one of three areas designated by the government during the Beijing Olympics.
The two went five times between Aug. 5 and Aug. 18 to apply for demonstration permits, Human Rights in China said, but they received no word on their requests.
"In the glare of international attention, it seems that even the government itself has acknowledged that this punishment was harsh and inappropriate," Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said in a statement.
Some 77 applications were lodged to hold protests in the Olympic zones, most of them far from the Olympic venues, but none were staged.
The re-education system, in place since 1957, allows police to sidestep the need for a criminal trial or a formal charge and directly send people to prison for up to four years to perform penal labor.
Critics say it is misused to detain political or religious activists, and violates suspects' rights.