China’s security apparatus springs into action to quell anti-Covid protests


China the vast security apparatus quickly moved to suppress mass protests which swept the whole country, the police patrolled the streets, checked cell phones and even called some demonstrators to warn them not to repeat.

In major cities on Monday and Tuesday, police flooded protests that took place over the weekend as thousands gathered to express their anger at the country’s tough coronavirus policies – some called for greater democracy and freedom in an extraordinary show of disagreement with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Since then, a strong police presence has deterred protesters from crowding, while authorities in some cities have adopted surveillance tactics used in the far western region of the US. xinjiang to intimidate those who demonstrated over the weekend.

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

Not to mention the demonstrations, Chen Wenqing urged law enforcement officials to “resolutely and firmly deal with the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal activities that disrupt public order,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Harsh language can signal the coming harsh repression. Although protests against the discontent of local residents take place in China, the current wave of demonstrations is the largest since the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989. authoritarian leader for decades to step down.

Some of the boldest protests took place in Shanghai, where two nights in a row crowds of people called for Xi’s ouster. The sidewalks of Urumqi Road, the main site of the protest, were completely blocked off by high barricades, making it almost impossible for crowds to gather.

Police cars patrol a street in Shanghai's Urumqi, which was completely blocked off by tall barricades after protests over the weekend.

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

Ten minutes away, dozens of police patrolled People’s Square, a large downtown square where some residents planned to gather with white paper and candles on Monday night. The police were also waiting there inside the subway station, blocking all but one of the exits, according to a protester at the scene.

CNN does not name any of the protesters in this story to protect them from reprisals.

The protester said he saw police check passers-by’s cell phones and ask them if they had installed virtual private networks (VPNs) that could be used to bypass the Chinese internet firewall, or apps like Twitter and Telegram, which, although banned in the country. were used by the protesters.

“There were also police dogs. The whole atmosphere was chilling,” the protester said.

The protesters later decided to move the planned demonstration to another location, but by the time they arrived, the presence of security forces there had already been stepped up, the protester said.

“There were too many police and we had to cancel,” he said.

Tuesday is widespread video seems to show police officers checking passengers’ mobile phones on a Shanghai subway train.

Another protester in Shanghai told CNN they were among “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 unclear how many people, if any, remain in detention.

The protester said the detainees’ phones were confiscated from the bus, which took them to the police station, where officers took their fingerprints and retinal samples.

According to the protester, the police told the detainees that they were being used by “intruders who want to start a color revolution,” citing nationwide protests that began the same day as evidence.

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

In Beijing, police cars, many parked with flashing headlights, lined eerily quiet streets on Monday morning in all parts of the capital, including near Liangmaqiao in downtown Chaoyang, where large crowds of protesters gathered on Sunday evening.

The demonstration, which saw hundreds of people march along the city’s Third Ring Road, ended peacefully early Monday morning under close police surveillance.

But some protesters have since received phone calls from police asking about their involvement.

One demonstrator said she received a call from a man who identified himself as a local policeman and asked her if she had been to the protest and what she saw there. She was also told that if she had a grudge against the authorities, she should complain to the police rather than engage in “illegal activities” such as protesting.

“That night, the police mostly took a calm approach to us. But the Communist Party is very good at punishing afterwards,” a demonstrator told CNN.

She said she did not wear a mask during the demonstration. “I don’t think Omicron is that scary,” she said. But her friends who were wearing masks at the protest also received calls from the police, she added.

However, the protester remained steadfast. “It is our legal right (to protest) because the constitution provides that we have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” she said.

Another protester, who hasn’t heard from the police, told CNN that fears she might be next to be called are worrying her.

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

Meanwhile, some universities in Beijing have arranged transportation for students to return home earlier for winter break and attend online classes, citing efforts to reduce Covid risks for students using public transportation.

But the arrangement also conveniently discourages students from gathering after demonstrations on a number of weekend campuses, including at the prestigious Tsinghua University, where hundreds of students chanted “Democracy and the rule of law! Freedom of expression!”

Given the long history of student movements in contemporary China, the authorities are particularly concerned about political rallies on university campuses.

Beijing universities were the source of the demonstrations that started the May Fourth Movement in 1919, from which the Chinese Communist Party traces its history, as well as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, which were brutally suppressed by the Chinese military.