In response to the increasing protests in China, the state authorities apparently deleted all reports on Chinese online networks on Monday. Search terms for central locations of the protests such as “Liangma River” in Beijing and “Urumqi Road” in Shanghai have now been removed from the Twitter-like online platform Weibo. Videos showing students at protests and rallies in other cities have also disappeared from the online service WeChat. They were replaced with notices that the content had been flagged for “non-compliant or sensitive content.”
The state-run newspaper People’s Daily published an op-ed on Monday morning warning of “paralysis” and “battle fatigue” in the fight against the corona pandemic, but without calling for an end to the rigid policy. People have now “reached a boiling point because there is no clear direction to end the zero-Covid policy,” Alfred Wu Muluan, a Chinese policy expert from the University of Singapore, told AFP. The party “underestimated the anger of the people”.
The people’s displeasure is directed against the strict measures of the Chinese zero-Covid policy such as repeated lockdowns, mass tests and forced quarantine. The anger had erupted in nationwide protests in the past few days. As a symbol of resistance and protest against censorship, many demonstrators held up blank white sheets. Slogans like “lift the lockdown” and “we don’t want PCR tests, we want freedom” were shouted.
There were also protest marches in other megacities such as Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Guangzhou. Dissatisfaction is also stirring at universities such as Tsinghua University in Beijing.
In the last few days, numerous people have been arrested in the largest wave of protests in China in decades. The weekend demonstrations lasted in many cities until Monday night. In the early hours of the night, a large contingent of police in the capital Beijing took action against hundreds of protesters near the diplomatic district.
According to a journalist from the AFP news agency, the police arrested two demonstrators in Shanghai on Monday. When asked why one of the people was taken away, an AFP police officer replied: “Because he didn’t follow our instructions.” It is unclear how many people have been arrested so far during the nationwide protests. China was in virtual news blackout.
BBC reporter apparently arrested and ill-treated
On Monday morning, the BBC said one of its journalists had been arrested and beaten by police while covering the protests in Shanghai. “The BBC is extremely concerned at the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the Shanghai protests,” said a spokesman for the British broadcaster.
Lawrence was punched and kicked by police officers when he was arrested, even though he has accreditation as a journalist. He was only released hours later. The BBC has not yet received any official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, it said.
These are the largest protests in China since the democracy movement in 1989, which the military brutally crushed on June 4 of that year. The trigger for the rare public expressions of displeasure was a house fire in the metropolis of Ürümqi in Xinjiang in north-west China on Thursday evening, killing at least ten people. Many expressed the suspicion that the rescue work had been hampered by the strict corona measures.
Another high in the number of cases despite the zero-Covid policy
Due to the extremely rigid measures taken by the authorities in the fight against the corona virus, dissatisfaction among the population has been increasing for weeks. Many megacities are largely paralyzed. People are bothered by the constant testing, curfews, forced quarantines, close surveillance by corona apps and contact tracing that authorities are using to try and get a grip on the easily spreading omicron variants of the virus.
Even in the case of individual infections or suspected cases, entire blocks of flats and residential complexes are cordoned off. Angry residents tore down cordons in Beijing and elsewhere. In the capital, shops, restaurants and schools are closed. Experts estimate that a fifth of the second largest economy and thus hundreds of millions of people across the country are likely to be affected by lockdowns. Many companies are reaching their limits. Employed workers and migrant workers in particular often have to accept painful wage cuts.
China is the last major economy to have a very strict zero-Covid policy. Despite the rigorous action against the virus, the billions of people are currently being hit by the worst corona wave since the pandemic began almost three years ago. The Health Commission reported a record high in the country on Monday with around 40,000 new infections. In Beijing there were almost 3,900 cases. (AFP, dpa)
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