In late December 2020, a group of protesters in Beijing joined a vigil to call for the Chinese government to take stronger measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The protesters, many of whom had been personally affected by the pandemic, were determined to make their voices heard.
Little did they know that their peaceful demonstration would have drastic consequences for their lives. Within days of the vigil, the Chinese government had cracked down on the protesters, accusing them of “inciting social unrest”.
The protesters were arrested and detained, and their social media accounts were shut down. Their families were harassed and threatened by the authorities. Some of the protesters were even sent to “re-education” camps.
The crackdown on the protesters is yet another example of the Chinese government’s heavy-handed approach to dissent. Despite the country’s claims of being a “people’s republic”, the authorities have a history of silencing those who speak out against them.
The Chinese government’s response to the protesters has been widely condemned by human rights groups and international observers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the immediate release of the protesters and for the Chinese government to respect the rights of its citizens to peacefully protest.
The Chinese government’s treatment of the protesters is a stark reminder of the dangers of speaking out against the authorities. It also serves as a warning to those who are brave enough to stand up for their beliefs in the face of oppression.
The protesters’ courage in standing up for what they believe in will not be forgotten. Their story is a reminder that even in the face of overwhelming odds, it is still possible to make a difference.
expressed their views, then this is an extremely serious event.”
Eight young Chinese female professionals, including an editor at a publishing house, were quietly detained by authorities in the weeks following a peaceful protest in Beijing on November 27. The protest was one of many that broke out in major cities across the country in an unprecedented showing of discontent with China’s now-dismantled zero-Covid controls. The detentions happened without any public comment from the authorities involved and the exact number of people detained in connection with the protests remains uncertain.
Two of the young women detained have been formally charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” people directly familiar with their cases said. Two more were released on bail Thursday evening and Friday, respectively, just days ahead of the Lunar New Year. It is unknown whether others were released and if so, how many.
The demonstration on November 27 was held to remember at least 10 people killed in a fire that consumed their locked-down building in the northwestern city Urumqi. Many in the crowd held up blank sheets of white A4-sized paper — a metaphor for the countless critical posts, news articles and outspoken social media accounts that were wiped from the internet by China’s censors. Some decried censorship and called for greater political freedoms, or shouted slogans calling for an end to incessant Covid tests and lockdowns.
The editor at the publishing house who joined the protest “with a heavy heart” was among those detained by police in the days that followed. Police confiscated or searched their phones and electronic devices and subjected at least one to a urine test. Some, like the editor, were initially brought in for questioning and released, but those in the group experienced an uneasy calm before the round-up of their friends began.
The detentions stand as a chilling marker of the lengths to which China’s ruling Communist Party will go to stamp out all forms of dissent and free speech — and the tactics used to counter perceived threats. People who know the detained individuals have expressed confusion over the detentions, describing them as young female professionals working in publishing, journalism and education, that were engaged and socially-minded, not dissidents or organizers. It has been suggested that the police may have been suspicious of young, politically aware women, as Chinese authorities have a long and well-documented history of targeting feminists.
The detentions indicate an ever-tightening space for free expression in China, with those affected feeling that what they had done was innocuous and no different from others in the crowd that night. They feel that they were taken away arbitrarily and that the result of their detentions is an extremely serious event, representing a ruthless suppression of some of the simplest and most spontaneous calls for justice in society today.