Chinese authorities are looking for COVID protesters

BEIJING, Nov 29 (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have opened investigations into some of the people who gathered during the weekend’s COVID-19 curb protests, three people at the Beijing protests told Reuters, while the police remained in numbers on the streets of the city. .

In one instance, a caller identifying himself as a police officer in the Chinese capital asked the protester to report to a police station on Tuesday to provide a written account of their activities on Sunday evening.

In another, a student was contacted by his college and asked if he had been to the area where the events took place and to provide a written account.

“We are all desperately deleting our chat history,” a Beijing protester who declined to be identified told Reuters.

“There are just too many police. The police came to check the identity of one of my friends and then took her away. We don’t know why. A few hours later they released her.”

The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not respond to a request for comment. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said rights and freedoms should be exercised within the law.

Simmering dissatisfaction with strict COVID prevention policies three years into the pandemic has flared up wider protests in towns thousands of miles apart over the weekend.

The biggest wave of civil disobedience in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago comes as the number of COVID cases hit daily highs and large parts of several cities face further closures.

A health official said complaints about COVID controls have mostly been about their inflexible implementation. Read more

“The issues highlighted by the public are not aimed at epidemic prevention and control themselves, but focus on simplifying prevention and control measures,” Cheng Youquan told reporters.

COVID has spread despite China largely isolating itself from the world and demanding significant sacrifices from its people to comply with frequent testing and prolonged isolation.

The lockdowns have exacerbated one of the sharpest growth slowdowns China has suffered in decades, disrupting global supply chains and disrupting financial markets.

On Tuesday, stocks in China and elsewhere rallied on expectations that the country could be on the way to easing restrictions, after authorities announced plans to increase vaccination rates for the elderly. Read more

‘REALLY SCARY’

In Hangzhou, the capital of eastern Zhejiang province, social media videos that Reuters could not independently verify showed hundreds of police occupying a large square on Monday evening, preventing people from gathering.

Video showed officers, surrounded by a small crowd of people holding smartphones, making an arrest while others tried to push the detained person back.

Hangzhou police did not immediately comment.

In Shanghai and Beijing, police were patrolling areas where some groups on the messaging service Telegram had suggested people gather again. The police presence on Monday evening ensured that no gathering was taking place.

“It’s really scary,” Beijing resident Philip Qin, 22, said of the large number of police on the streets.

Residents said police asked people crossing these areas for their phones to check if they had virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Telegram app, which was used by protesters, residents said. VPNs are illegal for most people in China, while Telegram app is blocked from internet in China.

A bus full of protesters was taken away by police during Sunday night’s protests in Shanghai.

The catalyst for the protests was a fire last week in the western city of Urumqi that authorities say killed 10 people.

Some netizens said the COVID lockdown measures hampered efforts to rescue people from the burning building. Officials denied this.

Students at several colleges in Sichuan province who attended memorials to victims on campuses were questioned by their professors about the identity of the main organizer, said a person who attended one in Chengdu, the capital of Province.

“FOREIGN FORCES”

Prominent nationalist bloggers, such as Ren Yi, the grandson of Communist Party leader Ren Zhongyi, and Yu Li, who uses the pseudonym Sima Nan, wrote this week that the protests were instigated by “foreign forces “.

“What is their goal? On the one hand, it is to intensify internal conflicts. On the other hand, it is to see if they can completely politicize the questions around our epidemic prevention and health policies” , wrote Ren in his blog “Chairman Rabbit”. .

Chinese authorities routinely warn that “foreign forces” endanger national security and have accused them of stoking the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

“Blaming foreign forces is a standard tactic,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “This is how the party disempowers itself and rallies people behind it.”

Officials say China’s COVID policies have kept the death toll in the thousands, avoiding the millions of deaths elsewhere. Many analysts say easing policy before increasing vaccination rates could lead to widespread illness and death, overwhelming hospitals.

In a Tuesday editorial that did not mention the protests, the People’s Daily, the Party’s official newspaper, urged citizens to “relentlessly implement” COVID policies.

“The more difficult it is, the more you have to grit your teeth,” he said.

Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Martin Quin Pollard, Yew Lun Tian and Albee Zhang in Beijing and Casey Hall in Shanghai; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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