With police patrolling the streets and censored internet information, Chinese authorities attempted to contain a protest movement on Monday historic in scope, in which the population demanded an end to the health restrictions due to covid and greater freedoms.
Due to its territorial reach, this wave of protests seems to be the most important since the democratic mobilizations of 1989. Discontent has grown in recent months in China, one of the few countries that continues to apply a strict policy against covid-19, called “zero covid”, which implies massive lockdowns and almost daily PCR tests.
On Sunday, crowds demonstrated in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, among other cities, chanting slogans such as: “Xi Jinping, step down! CCP (Communist Party of China) Step down!” or “No borders, we want freedom.”
Even the anger of the citizens it was fueled by the deadly Urumqi fire, capital of Xinjiang Province (Northwest). Many say relief efforts have been hampered by covid-19 restrictions.
In Urumqi, a city of 4 million inhabitants, the authorities have relaxed the restrictions: From Tuesday the bus can be used for shopping and courier services and businesses in “low-risk” areas will be able to partially resume their activity.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused “forces” mobilized for “ultimate reasons” that it linked the fire to the “local response to covid-19,” its spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said.
A planned protest in Beijing on Monday afternoon failed as dozens of police officers and vehicles crowded an intersection near the summoning point in Haidian District. A lone protester criticized President Xi Jinping before being arrested.
In Hong Kong, where there were massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, dozens of protesters gathered at the Chinese University to mourn the victims of the Urumqi fire, an AFP reporter has found.
Both the United Nations and the United States defended the right of people to demonstrate in China.
In Shanghai, two people were arrested near Urumqi Road, where a demonstration had taken place on Sunday. One of them “he had disobeyed” the “provisions” of the police, an officer said.
Patrols also dispersed people at the scene and forced them to delete photos taken with their mobile phones, an AFP reporter saw. The Shanghai police, when asked about it, He did not specify how many arrests were made over the weekend.
In that city, a BBC reporter in China was arrested and “beaten up by the police”according to the UK chain, which the UK’s business minister, Grant Shapps, deemed “unacceptable” and “worrying”.
“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our reporter Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering protests in Shanghai,” a BBC spokesman said in a written statement sent to AFP.
In turn, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the largest public media alliance in the world, on Monday criticized the “aggressions” suffered by journalists in China.
They were there on Sunday violent altercations between the security forces and the protesters in Shanghai, some of whom carried blank papers, in a gesture to denounce the censorship. Many of those gathered were arrested.
In Beijing, police patrols were deployed near the Liangma River, where more than 400 youths had gathered on Sunday for several hours chanting “We are all Xinjiang people!”
“This demonstration was a good thing”a 20-year-old woman who ran around the neighborhood and asked to remain anonymous told AFP.
“It sent the message that people are tired of these excessive restrictions,” he said. “I think the government [lo] understood and they will ease their policies to move forward,” he added, considering that “censorship has not been able to keep up” with the protests.
However, any information about the marches appears to have been removed from Chinese social media. On the Weibo platform, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, searches for “Liangma River” and “Urumqi street” did not return any results relating to the mobilization.
In addition to Beijing and Shanghai, protests have also been called in Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Wuhan, the city in the center of the country where the first case of covid-19 was detected almost three years ago.
The State People’s Daily published an article on Monday in which warned of “paralysis” and “exhaustion” against the “zero covid” strategy, but without expecting it to end.
“People have reached a boiling point because there is no clear direction to end the zero-COVID policy,” Alfred Wu Muluan, an expert on China policy at the National University of Singapore, told AFP. “The party has underestimated popular anger,” he added.
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.