As China loosens Covid restrictions, protesters fear retribution

BEIJING/HONG KONG: Late last month, Shanghai resident Pei was one of many who took to the streets to support historic protests against China’s Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. , including shooting a few seconds of a man being arrested on a street corner.
Almost immediately, Pei said, five or six plainclothes policemen grabbed him. He was taken to a police station and held for 20 hours, sometimes with his hands and feet tied to a chair, he told Reuters.
“The officer who pushed me into the car tried to threaten me by saying that I should worry if other people found out what I had done. Feeling defiant, I told him I would give it all. The world knows what your police are doing,” Pei said. , 27. He asked to reveal only part of his name for fear of the consequences.
Now, as many Chinese residents welcome the easing of lockdown measures that have crippled businesses and caused unemployment, some protesters have been arrested by China’s security apparatus. keep facing anxious waiting about their fate.
While Pei and other protesters were released with a warning, several human rights lawyers and academics noted the President. Xi Jinpingfor taking a hard line on dissidents over the past decade, and said there was still a risk of further harassment and prosecution.
Lynette Ong, a professor at the University of Toronto, talks about delaying match-fixing until the time is right, said Lynette Ong, a professor at the University of Toronto: “’Song by accounts after the harvest. autumn’ is the Party’s way of dealing with those who betrayed it.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to a request for comment on laws it could use against protesters. Shanghai police also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pei’s description of how he was arrested or what further actions they might take.
Last week, in a statement that did not mention the protests, the Communist Party’s top body in charge of law enforcement agencies said China would crack down on “infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces” and will not tolerate any “criminal and illegal acts”. acts of disturbing social order”.
Asked about the protests, China’s foreign ministry said rights and freedoms must be exercised legally.
Fines and jail?
Reuters could not determine how many protesters were still in police custody. Social media calls for details on the whereabouts of the few missing protesters still online.
The protests, seen by many as the tipping point of the easing of tight Covid restrictions, have largely subsided in some cities after a heavy police presence on the streets.
The consequences of protests in China have intensified in recent years under Xi’s tenure, with the Ministry of Public Security releasing guidelines two years ago that have been used by local authorities to ban illegal activities. protesters take on jobs as tour guides or insurance agents, while also making it difficult for their family members to get government-related jobs.
Zhang Dongshuo, a lawyer in Beijing who has handled rights cases in the past, said the level of punishment for the protests in China varied widely.
Those deemed bystanders can be released with a small fine and detained for up to 15 days, while scuffles with police can lead to jail terms for public disorder or disorderly conduct. “fighting” and causing trouble.
Mr. Zhang said those chanting slogans calling for the overthrow of Mr. Xi or the Communist Party – as seen in a number of protests across China – are likely to face heavier charges of incitement. or participate in activities to subvert the state. up to life.
Eiro, another Shanghai protester who was detained after trying to prevent police from taking away another protester, said that during her interrogation, the police specifically wanted to know if anyone had distributing white A4 sheets is the defining symbol of these protests. as well as the identities of the protest organizers.
“Police said this time there will be no punishment for all of us, but can call us back after further investigation,” she told Reuters on an encrypted messaging app.
Pei, Eiro and other protesters whom Reuters interviewed said they were asked by police to sign letters of repentance, some of whom were asked to read them aloud while being interrogated. film.
During the pro-democracy, anti-China protests that dragged on in Hong Kong in 2019, thousands of people were arrested but were only charged much later with crimes such as rioting and subversion, and Many are still in the process.
“I probably won’t go (protest) anymore for a while,” Eiro said. “This time everyone was impulsive and inexperienced. We were poorly prepared and didn’t have any mature communication and organizational background that could unite and organize people.”
During his meeting in Beijing last week with European Council President Charles Michel, Mr. Xi attributed the dissent in part to youth frustration over the pandemic, according to a senior EU official. .
Alfred Wu, assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said a harsher crackdown is only possible if the authorities believe the protests are organized and political in nature. leadership, instead of leadership and spontaneity.
“They just spring up naturally because people are driven by a sense of hopelessness and despair over the never-ending restrictions of Covid,” said Wu.
For some, however, the desire for broader political freedoms has not waned even with the easing of Covid measures.
“I don’t think this is good news or victory in our struggle because what we are asking for is freedom,” Eiro said.
Despite the looming shadow of future revenge by the authorities, Pei said he has no regrets.
“It was worth it. It allowed me to witness first-hand the Communist Party’s control of our speech, and to see the people’s freedoms under its rule deeply restricted. what color.”


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