Chinese authorities have begun investigating some of the people who gathered during the weekend protests against Covid-19 restrictions, three people who were at the Beijing demonstrations told Reuters, as several police officers continued to walk the streets of the city.
In one case, a person who identified himself as a police officer in the Chinese capital asked a protester to report to a police station on Tuesday to hand over a written record of his activities on Sunday night.
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In another, a student was contacted by his university and asked if he had been in the area where the incidents occurred and to provide a written account.
“We are all desperately deleting our chat history,” a Beijing protester who declined to be named told Reuters.
“There are too many policemen. The police came to check my friend’s identity and then took her away. We don’t know why. A few hours later they released her.”
The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simmering discontent with Covid prevention policies, after three years of the pandemic, led to wider protests over the weekend in cities located thousands of kilometers away.
The largest wave of civil disobedience in mainland China since Xi Jinping he took over a decade ago, as the number of Covid cases hits daily highs and large parts of several cities face new lockdowns.
Covid in China continues to spread despite the efforts of most of its 1.4 billion people to prevent transmission by adhering to a “zero Covid” strategy to eradicate all outbreaks by maintaining strict border controls.
The lockdowns exacerbated one of the biggest slowdowns in Chinese growth in decades, disrupting global supply chains and destabilizing financial markets.
In Hangzhou, the capital of eastern Zhejiang province, videos posted to social media, which Reuters could not independently verify, showed hundreds of police officers occupying a large plaza on Monday night, preventing people from gathering. .
One video showed police, surrounded by a small crowd of people with cell phones, arresting one person while others tried to take him away.
Hangzhou police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Shanghai and Beijing, police were patrolling areas where groups on the Telegram messaging service had suggested people gather again. The presence of the police on Monday afternoon and evening prevented the occurrence of gatherings.
“The large number of policemen, it’s very scary,” said the Beijing resident Philip Qing22 years old, who attended the protests on Sunday.
Residents said police asked people passing through those areas to check their phones if they had both some sort of virtual private network (VPN) and the Telegram app, which was used by protesters, residents said. VPNs are illegal for most people in China, while the Telegram app is blocked on the Chinese network.
A bus full of protesters was removed by police during protests in Shanghai on Sunday night.
“Thousands of Difficulties”
A fire last week in the western city of Urumqi, which authorities say killed 10 people, appears to have sparked a wave of protests in other cities.
Some netizens said the Covid lockdown measures have hampered efforts to rescue people in the burning building. The authorities have denied.
Though largely focused on Covid-lockdown measures, protesters have occasionally vented their frustration on the Communist Party and Xi, who has concentrated power in his hands for the past decade and just won another term.
On Sunday, huge crowds gathered in the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu chanting, “We don’t want rulers for life. We don’t want emperors.”
Xi had personally taken on the responsibility of leading the “war” against Covid. Authorities say the “zero Covid” strategy has kept the death toll in the thousands in the world’s most populous country, while avoiding millions of deaths elsewhere.
Many analysts say an easing of measures could lead to widespread cases of illness and deaths, which would overwhelm hospitals. A major push to vaccinate the elderly is needed before China can even contemplate reopening, they argue.
In an editorial on Tuesday that made no mention of the protests, the People’s Daily, which is the official newspaper of the Communist Party, urged citizens to “firmly pursue” the “zero COVID” vaccine strategy, which puts “the lives of people first”, and claimed that victory would come through “perseverance through many odds”.
“The harder it gets, the more you have to grit your teeth,” she said.