Delay in Olympic Torch Route is Causing Uproar Among Protesters
As the only stop in North America of the Olympic Torch, San Francisco is becoming a hot spot for protesters and fans alike. Yet, with the route of the torch run still unknown, protesters are fighting even harder for a chance to let their voice be heard.
Among some of the groups upset with the route delay is the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who want to use the torch’s procession to protest China’s human rights record and its crackdown in Tibet, reported the New York Times.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom did release a written commitment Wednesday that police would not restrict protests, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
Michael Risher, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, had asked the city to hurry up and publicize its plans for the April 9 event, since his concern was that fans of the Games, due to begin in Beijing on Aug. 8, would be tipped off while protesters would be left wondering, reported the New York Times.
However, in response the ACLU's request for more information, a spokesman for Newsom said the city could not tell groups planning protests along the torch run's route April 9 exactly what that route will be, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The course will not be decided until after April 1, the city said.
The mayor's office did confirm that several public squares will be available for groups opposed to the Chinese government policies to hold rallies.
"The public is welcome to line the sidewalks along the torch relay route and to attend the opening and closing ceremonies," Joe Arellano, a spokesman for Newsom, wrote in a letter to the ACLU. That includes protesters, he said.
San Francisco was chosen as the sole North American host of the torch in part because of its large Chinese-American population, reported the New York Times. The mayor said the flame would begin and end its visit at AT&T Park, where baseball’s Giants play, and would travel the city’s waterfront. Protesters will be allowed at various points along the route, he said, and some areas will be set aside for larger demonstrations.
City officials said a few weeks ago they would create "free speech zones" for protesters, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. But those zones are intended only for "large groups who feel it is imperative to stay together in order to have their message heard," according to a memo Wednesday to Newsom from Martha Cohen, who plans special events for the mayor's office.
The mayor's office gave no new details about where the torch would travel, however it did name several spots that will not be on the relay's route. They include Civic Center Plaza, Union Square, Washington Square and Portsmouth Square.
On Wednesday, representatives of several of the groups planning protests met with police to discuss where and how they could show their displeasure with the Chinese government. Ten people met with Sgt. John Colla, who is the point person for protests at the Police Department's Central Station. Those at the meeting represented groups critical of China's policies toward Tibet, Burma and the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The groups will not be prohibited from protesting anywhere along the torch route, Colla said. He did suggest they apply for a permit for Ferry Park, near the closing ceremonies at Justin Herman Plaza, according to people who attended the meeting.
"It was good to meet with the police, because at least we know each other's face," said Thup Ten, a member of Students for a Free Tibet. "But I myself left the meeting worried because even the police do not know what the route is going to be, and it looks like Mayor Newsom is completely on the Chinese government's side."
Activist groups, backed by the ACLU, have said that not releasing details of the torch route is a de facto suppression of their right to protest. Newsom has said city officials, along with law enforcement agencies and representatives of the U.S. and Beijing Olympic committees, have yet to finalize the route.