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


China’s security forces have moved quickly to quell many of the protests that have swept the country, with police patrolling the streets, checking cellphones and calling protesters to warn them against repeating.

In major cities on Monday and Tuesday, police swarmed the sites of protests that took place over the weekend, where thousands gathered to express their anger at the country’s strict zero-Covid policy – some calling for greater democracy and freedom in an unusual show of dissent. against Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

A heavy police presence has discouraged protesters from gathering since, and authorities in some cities are using surveillance tactics used in the western region of Xinjiang to intimidate those who protested over the weekend.

In what appears to be the first official — albeit veiled — response to the protests, China’s top domestic security official vowed at a meeting Tuesday to “effectively maintain overall social stability.”

Without commenting on the protests, Chen Wenqing called on law enforcement to “crack down hard against infiltration and destruction by hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal activities that disrupt public order,” the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

A harsh language may foretell a severe attack to come. Although local grievance protests occur in China, the current wave of protests is the most widespread since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement of 1989. Political disrespect is also unprecedented, with some protesters openly calling for Xi, the country’s most powerful leader yet again. dictatorial leader for decades, stepped down.

One of the most prominent protests took place in Shanghai, where crowds called for Xi’s removal two nights in a row. The side streets of Urumqi Road – the main area of ​​the protest – have been completely blocked by tall barriers, making it difficult for crowds to gather.

Police cars patrol Urumqi Road, Shanghai, which has been blocked off after protests over the weekend.

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

A ten-minute drive away, dozens of police were patrolling People’s Square – a large downtown area where some residents had planned to gather with white papers and candles on Monday evening. Police also waited inside the subway station there, sealing off all but one area, according to a protester at the scene.

CNN is not naming any of the protesters in this story to protect them from retaliation.

The protester said he saw police checking passers-by’s cellphones, and asking them if they had installed private networks (VPNs) that can be used to bypass China’s firewall, or applications such as Twitter and Telegram, even though they are banned in the country. used by protesters.

“There were also police dogs. The weather was cold,” said the protester.

The protesters later decided to move their protest to another place, but by the time they arrived, security had been tightened, the protester said.

“There were too many police officers and we had to withdraw them,” he said.

On Tuesday, it was widely circulated video appears to show police checking passengers’ cellphones on a subway in Shanghai.

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

CNN cannot independently confirm the number of protesters arrested and it is unclear how many people, if any, remain in custody.

The protester said the prisoners’ phones were confiscated on the bus that was taking them to the police station, where the police took their fingerprints and retinal patterns.

According to the protester, the police told those arrested that they were used by “people with bad intentions who want to start a color revolution,” pointing to the protests that broke out across the country on the same day as proof of that.

The protester said the police returned their phone and camera when they were released, but the police deleted the photo album and the WeChat social media app.

In Beijing, police cars, many parked with their lights on, lined quiet streets Monday morning in all parts of the capital, including Liangmaqiao in downtown Chaoyang, where a large crowd of protesters had gathered Sunday night.

The protest, which saw hundreds of people marching on the Third Ring Road, ended peacefully in the early hours of Monday under the watchful eye of the police.

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

Another protester said he received a call from a man who called himself a local police officer, asking him if he was at the protest and what he saw there. He was also told that if someone is not satisfied with the authorities, he should complain to the police, instead of participating in “illegal actions” such as protest.

“That night, the police used a calm spirit when dealing with us. But the Communist Party is very good at doling out punishment after that,” the protester told CNN.

He said he did not wear a face mask during the protest. “I don’t think Omicron is that scary,” he said. But his friends who wore masks at the protest also received calls from the police — some as early as 1 a.m., he added.

Nevertheless, the protester continued to defy. “It is our legal right (to protest), because the constitution says we have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” he said.

One protester, who has not heard from the police, told CNN that the possibility of being the one to be called worries him the most.

“I can ask for comfort by telling myself that there are many of us who participated in this protest, they will not be able to lock a thousand people in jail,” he said.

Meanwhile, some universities in Beijing have arranged transportation for students to return home early for winter break and study online, revealing an effort to reduce the risk of Covid for students who travel by public transportation.

But the program also easily discourages students from rallying, following protests on a series of campuses over the weekend, including at the prestigious Tsinghua University where hundreds of students chanted “Democracy and the rule of law! Freedom of speech!”

Given the long history of student-led movements in modern China, authorities are particularly concerned about political gatherings on university campuses.

Beijing universities were the source of the protests that started the May Fourth Movement in 1919, where the Chinese Communist Party found its roots, and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, which were brutally crushed by the Chinese military.


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