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



CNN

China Extensive security services quickly moved to choke Mass protests that swept the country, with police patrolling the streets, checking cellphones and even calling some protesters to warn them not to repeat it.

In major cities on Monday and Tuesday, police flooded the sites of protests that took place over the weekend, when thousands gathered to express their anger at the country’s strict anti-coronavirus policy – some have called for it. More democracy and freedom In an extraordinary show of opposition against Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

A heavy police presence has discouraged protesters from gathering ever since, while authorities in some cities have adopted surveillance methods used in the far west of the country. Xinjiang To intimidate those who demonstrated at the weekend.

In what appears to be the first official – albeit veiled – response to the protests, China’s internal security chief pledged at Tuesday’s meeting to “effectively maintain overall social stability”.

Without referring to the demonstrations, Chen Wenqing urged law enforcement officials to “severely crack down on the infiltration and sabotage of hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order,” Xinhua reported.

In Shanghai, the sidewalks of Urumqi Road – where residents protested for two nights in a row – were completely closed off by high barriers, making it nearly impossible for crowds to congregate.

Police detained a demonstrator in Shanghai on Sunday night.

A ten-minute drive away, dozens of police officers patrolled People’s Square – 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 inside a subway station there, blocking all but one exit, according to a protester at the scene.

CNN did not name any of the protesters in this story to protect them from retaliation.

The protester said he saw police checking passers-by’s mobile phones, asking them if they had installed virtual private networks (VPNs) that could be used to circumvent China’s internet firewall, or apps such as Twitter and Telegram, which although banned in the country were used. by the protesters.

“There were also sniffer dogs. It was bone-chilling,” the protester said.

The protester said the protesters later decided to move their planned demonstration to another location, but by the time they arrived, the security presence had already mounted there.

“There were too many cops 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 after 24 hours.

CNN cannot independently verify the number of protesters detained and it is not clear how many, if any, remain in detention.

The protester said the detainees had their phones confiscated on a bus that took them to a police station, where officers collected their fingerprints and retinal patterns.

According to the protester, the police told the detainees that they had been used by “ill-intentioned people who want to start a color revolution”, citing the outbreak of protests across the country on the same day as evidence of this.

The protester said police returned their phones and cameras upon their release, but officers deleted the photo album and removed the WeChat social networking app.

In Beijing, several police cars parked with their lights flashing lined eerily quiet streets Monday morning across the capital, including near Liangmaqiao in the city’s central Chaoyang district, where a large crowd of protesters gathered Sunday night.

The demonstration, which saw hundreds march on the city’s Third Ring Road, ended peacefully in the early hours of Monday morning under the close watch of police officers.

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

One protester said she received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a local police officer, who asked 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” such as protesting.

“It is our legitimate right (to demonstrate) because the constitution stipulates that we have freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” she said. That night, the police mostly adopted a calm approach when dealing with us. But the Communist Party is very adept at punishing afterward.”

Another protester, who has not heard from the police, told CNN that anxiety that she might be the next called is weighing on her.

She said, “I can only get solace by telling myself there are so many of us who took part in the protest, they can’t put a thousand people in jail.”

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

But the arrangement also discourages students from congregating on campus, after demonstrations at a series of campuses 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 were the source of the demonstrations that launched the May Fourth Movement in 1919, which the Chinese Communist Party traces its roots to, as well as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, which were brutally crushed by the Chinese army.

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