China is still punishing those who protested against zero-covid

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Wchicken complaints against the government’s “zero-covid” policy that spread across China in November, some observers feared a violent crackdown was underway. After all, the Communist Party has a history of such things. But the authorities’ initial response was measured. The police watched silently as crowds of young people in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities demanded an end to mass testing and lockdowns. Officials did not stop even when a few activists demanded freedom of speech and the right to vote. The Beijing police chief told one protester that the crowd had been heard.

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Shortly after the demonstrations, the Chinese government suspended most of its covid controls. A recent article by Xinhua, a state news agency, did not mention the protests, but noted that public “fatigue, anxiety and tension” had been rising and that this had helped change minds. policy makers. The party likes to claim that it responds to public sentiment.

But he does not like politically charged protests. So even as the government was dismantling its zero-covid machine, it was also pursuing those who pushed it to do so. In the days and weeks following the protests, police tracked down many of those involved using facial recognition technology and mobile phone data. Some were brought in, questioned and asked to sign a document admitting their mistakes. Others were reportedly strip-searched.

Most of them were released within a day. But at least eight people who attended the protests in Beijing have been detained since mid-December, according to their friends. Most of them are women in their 20s with white collar jobs. Reports indicate that several other people have also been arrested. In a post on Weibo, a social media platform, a lawyer for one of the detainees said the police were making it difficult for him to meet his client.

The detainees could be released after being held for 37 days, the maximum allowed before formal arrest. Protesters in the city of Guangzhou were released this month after a few weeks in prison. But it’s also possible that those still trapped will be charged under vague public order laws and detained.

Perhaps paranoia overshadows the government’s treatment of the protesters. Officials and reporters against the government have said that foreign forces were behind the disturbance. America and other Western countries are the usual suspects. China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, compared the protests against covid to the “color” revolutions that swept through the former Soviet Union. China blames those on Western machinations, too. “White is also a color,” Mr. Lu said, referring to the blank sheets of paper held up by protesters in China as a way of expressing official sentiments. .

It’s not as if public anger needs to stop from abroad. The government’s covid controls were trapping an increasing number of people and damaging the economy. Frustration with zero-covid was growing. The protests were just the latest sign of this. People were already knocking down barriers and fighting with the police. As the Omicron revolution spread, it became increasingly clear that zero-covid was not sustainable. Finally, the government bowed to reality. He does not want to be seen to have given in to the demands of activists, for fear of provoking more.

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