The Chinese authorities had designated three special protest zones in Beijing for the duration of the Beijing Olympics, but were widely condemned by human rights groups for not allowing a single protest to be held during the games.

With both the Olympic and Paralympic games now over, Chinese officials say the three zones have been closed down.

The decision to allow protest zones - seen in previous Olympics - was touted as a positive sign by the International Olympic Committee that China was living up to commitments to be more open.

But during the games, the zones, situated in three parks across the Chinese capital, stayed quiet.

Wu Dian Yuan and Wang Xiu Ying faced detention for applying to protest
Would-be protesters said that the process to apply for permission to protest was unclear and paperwork often simply disappeared into a bureaucratic hole.

During the Olympics, Al Jazeera and several other media organisations reported on the case of two elderly ladies who were sentenced to a year of re-education through labour after applying to protest in one of the zones.

Wu Dian Yuan, 79, and her neighbour, Wang Xiu Ying, 77, said they had received no compensation after being forced from their homes six years ago to make way for developers.

Their sentence was later rescinded following widespread criticism from human rights groups, although no official reason was given for the reversal.

In a separate case, New York-based Human Rights Watch said legal activist Ji Sizun had been taken into custody after checking with police on the progress of his own application to protest in one of the Olympic zones.

He had been applying for permission to demonstrate against corruption and demand more political rights.

The most visible protests during the Olympics were by small groups of mainly overseas pro-Tibet activists who ignored the protest zones altogether and staged demonstrations unfurling banners and flags on the Olympic green or near the new state television headquarters in central Beijing.

In most cases the protests were quickly smothered by police, with the activists briefly detained before being quietly deported.