China’s security apparatus swings into action to smother Covid protests



China’s extensive security apparatus moved swiftly to quell the mass protests that swept the country, with police patrolling the streets, checking mobile phones and even calling some protesters to warn them of a repeat.

In major cities, police flooded the sites of protests that took place over the weekend on Monday and Tuesday, as thousands gathered to vent their anger at the country’s harsh zero-Covid policy – some calling for more democracy and freedom in a extraordinary display of dissent against Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The heavy police presence has since discouraged protesters from gathering, while authorities in some cities have employed surveillance tactics used in far western Xinjiang to intimidate those demonstrating over the weekend.

In Shanghai, the sidewalks of Urumqi Road – where residents had protested two nights in a row – have been completely blocked by high barricades, making it virtually impossible for crowds to congregate.

A protester was arrested by police in Shanghai on Sunday evening.

Ten minutes’ drive away, dozens of policemen were patrolling Volksplein – a large square in the heart of the city where some residents planned to gather with white paper and candles on Monday night. Police also waited in a subway station there and closed all but one exit, according to a protester at the scene.

CNN does not name any of the protesters in this story to protect them from reprisal.

The protester said he saw police checking passersby’s cellphones and asking them if they had installed virtual private networks (VPNs) that could be used to bypass China’s internet firewall, or apps like Twitter and Telegram, which although banned in the country land have been used by protesters.

“There were also police dogs. The whole atmosphere was chilling,” the protester said.

Protesters later decided to move their planned demonstration to another location, but by the time they arrived, security had already been stepped up there, the protester said.

“There was too much police and we had to cancel,” he said.

Another Shanghai protester told CNN they were among “about 80 to 110” people detained by police on Saturday night, adding that they were released 24 hours later.

CNN cannot independently verify the number of protesters detained and it is unclear how many people are still in custody.

The demonstrator said the detainees’ phones had been seized aboard a bus that took them to a police station, where officers collected their fingerprints and retinal patterns.

According to the protester, police told detainees that they had been used by “people with bad intentions who want to start a color revolution”, pointing to nationwide protests that broke out on the same day as proof of that.

The protester said police returned their phone and camera upon release, but officers removed the photo album and removed the WeChat social media app.

In Beijing Monday morning, police vehicles, many parked with flashing lights, lined eerily quiet streets in parts of the capital, including near Liangmaqiao in the central Chaoyang district, where large crowds of protesters had gathered Sunday evening.

The demonstration, which saw hundreds of people march on the city’s third ring road, ended peacefully on Monday under the close watch of rows of police officers.

But some protesters have since received calls from police asking about their participation.

One protester said she received a call from a man who identified himself as a local police officer, who asked her if she was at the protest and what she saw there. She was also told that if she had any dissatisfaction with the authorities, she should file a complaint with the police, rather than take part in “illegal activities” like the protest.

“It is our legitimate right (to protest), because the constitution states that we have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” she said. “That night, the police were mostly calm in dealing with us. But the Communist Party is very good at punishing after the fact.”

Another protester, who has not heard from police, told CNN that the concern that she could be next called up weighs heavily on her.

“I can only take solace in telling myself that so many of us took part in the protest, they can’t put a thousand people in jail,” she said.

Meanwhile, some universities in Beijing have arranged transportation for students to return home early and take classes online for the rest of the semester, citing an effort to reduce Covid risks for students traveling on public transportation.

But the scheme also conveniently discourages students from gathering on campus, following demonstrations at a range of universities in Beijing and across the country over the weekend.

Given the long history of student-led movements in modern China, authorities are particularly concerned about mass gatherings of students on sensitive occasions.

Beijing’s universities have been the source of demonstrations that kicked off the May Fourth Movement in 1919, where the Chinese Communist Party traces its roots, as well as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which were brutally crushed by the Chinese army.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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