Hundreds of protesters and police clashed in Shanghai as protests against China’s strict COVID-19 restrictions continued into a third day and spread to several other cities.
Latest Demonstration – unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago – began after 10 people were killed in a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang , which many protesters blame on the prolonged COVID-19 lockdown.
The deaths have become a lightning rod for frustration over Beijing’s stubbornness. pledge free of COVID and a combination of strict lockdowns, mass testing and tracing continues to hamper people’s lives three years after the first cases of the then-unknown virus were discovered. in downtown Wuhan.
“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t love my government… I want to be free to go out, but I can’t. Our COVID-19 policy is a game and is not based on science or reality,” protester Shaun Xiao told Reuters news agency in Shanghai, China’s largest city.
Hundreds of people gathered Sunday night in the city, holding up white papers as a sign of censorship over the protest, as police maintained a dense presence on Wulumuqi Road, named after name of Urumqi, and where a candlelight vigil on Saturday evolved into a protest.
A Reuters witness saw police escorting people onto a bus, which was then whisked away amid a crowd of several dozen people on board. An accredited BBC reporter covering the protests was assaulted and detained for several hours, the UK’s public broadcaster said.
“The BBC is deeply concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the Shanghai protests,” a spokesman said in a statement. .
“He was held for several hours before being released. While being arrested, he was beaten and kicked by the police.”
‘We want freedom’
Protesters also took to the streets in Wuhan and Chengdu on Sunday, while students at many universities across China gathered to demonstrate over the weekend.
In the early hours of Monday in Beijing, two groups of protesters totaling at least 1,000 people gathered along the Chinese capital’s Third Ring Road near the Liangma River, refusing to disperse.
“We don’t want to wear masks, we want freedom. We don’t want COVID testing, we want freedom,” one of the groups chanted earlier.
Following Thursday’s fire in Urumqi, crowds there poured into the streets of the city on Friday night, chanting “Stop the blockade!” and raised his fist in the air, according to unverified videos on social media.
On Sunday, a large crowd gathered in the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu, according to videos on social media. There they also held up blank sheets of paper and chanted: “We don’t want lifelong rulers. We don’t want an emperor,” referring to Xi Jinping, who has removed presidential term limits.
In Wuhan, videos on social media showed hundreds of residents taking to the streets, smashing metal fences, overturning COVID testing tents and demanding an end to the lockdown.
Other cities that have seen public dissent include Lanzhou in the northwest. Protesters said they were under lockdown although no one has tested positive.
Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director Hana Young said in a statement: “People have been extremely patient with the lockdown measures but authorities must not abuse emergency policies. “These unprecedented protests show that people are about to end up suffering from the excessive restrictions imposed by Covid-19.
“The Chinese government must immediately review its Covid-19 policies to ensure that they are appropriate and on time. All quarantine measures that threaten personal safety and unnecessarily restrict freedom of movement should be suspended.”
Pressure on the party
China has stuck with Xi Jinping’s COVID-free policy even as much of the world has lifted most of its pandemic-related restrictions, but the emergence of more contagious variants has made reduce the effectiveness of virus suppression measures.
While low by global standards, China’s number of infections has hit a multi-day record high, with more than 40,000 new infections reported by the authorities in Monday’s update.
Beijing has defended the policy as saving lives and necessary to prevent an overburdened health care system, but has since adjust its approach after one The extended lockdown in Shanghai earlier this year caused anger and frustration of the city’s 25 million inhabitants.
The National Health Commission has sent staff to various local governments to help implement the new policies and “fix some of the problems,” while avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” approach. both” and “excessive policy steps” in tackling the outbreaks, the state-run Global Times reported on Monday.
It noted that authorities in the eastern city of Hefei had issued a 16-item “do not do” list, including not sealing and sealing doors for people under home quarantine, in While in the center of Zhengzhou, officials clarified that the “stay-at-home order” meant that residents were still allowed to go out for medical treatment, emergency, escape and rescue.
In Urumqi, where many of the regional capital’s 4 million people have been banned from leaving their homes for 100 days, officials deny COVID-19 lockdown measures have hampered escape and rescue efforts. in the fire on Thursday.
However, frustration is boiling over just over a month after Mr. Xi won a third term as leader of the Communist Party of China.
“This will put serious pressure on the party to respond. Dan Mattingly, assistant professor of political science at Yale University, said the most likely response would be repression, and they would arrest and prosecute some of the protesters.
However, he warned, the unrest was a far cry from 1989 when the protests culminated in a bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
He added that as long as Xi Jinping has China’s elites and the military on his side, he will not face any significant risk to his hold on power. .
“The tragedy of the Urumqi fire has inspired extraordinary courage across China. Unfortunately, the Chinese play is too predictable,” says Amnesty’s Young. “Censorship and surveillance will continue, and we will most likely see police use of force and mass arrests of protesters in the hours and days to come. Longer prison sentences for peaceful protesters are also possible.”