12/02/2022, 18.32
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Chinese authorities use arrests and checkpoints to quell mass protests

by John Ai

As repression intensified following anti-lockdown rallies last weekend, police target activists. Universities send students home. Official media continue to be silent while propaganda on social media rises. Spam floods Twitter while porn is used to stop discussions about what is going on.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Chinese authorities have reinforced security measures in major cities in the wake of massive protests over the weekend against the government’s zero-COVID policy. Yet, sporadic protests are still reported.

Pictures and videos are making it online showing some people appearing in public with blank paper, while anonymous activists are putting up posters and shouting slogans on campuses or in public.

Blank sheets of paper have become the symbol of protests, representing defiance against censorship and the narrowing spacing of expression under Xi Jinping’s rule.

Meanwhile, police are still searching for those who participated in the protests last weekend.  Some reports say that activists went missing. According to AFP, some participants in the weekend rallies were summoned by police.

Massive protests continued in Guangzhou on Monday and Tuesday. Although political slogans did not appear in this area where migrant workers live, furious clashes broke out between them and riot police.

Lacking food and money under strict lockdown, protesters removed barriers and fences, as well as a tent for testing. Police moved in and cracked down while protesters threw glass bottles in response.

This wave of protests boldly challenges the ruling Communist Party of China and its supreme leader Xi Jinping amid the economic stagnation and unemployment caused by his zero-COVID policy.

Nationwide protests started in central Shanghai where resident mourned the people who lost their life in a deadly fire in Xinjiang. Official media say 10 people died since emergency exits were locked for the lockdown.

Protesters in Shanghai chanted “Communist Party, step down”, “Xi Jinping, step down”. Protests flared up and people began to demand democracy and freedom.

In Shanghai, the authorities set up fences along both sides of the streets where protesters rallied over the weekend.

Police reinforced patrols near the site where the rally took place and checked the mobile phones of passers-by. They also prevented people from taking photos in the street.

Videos posted online show that Shanghai police also checked people’s phones to see if there was something related to the protests.

In other large cities where protests happened, such as the capital Beijing, the central city of Wuhan, the southern city of Guangzhou, and the western city of Chengdu, police also reinforced security in the street.

Reports say that police have deployed a large number of units near universities in Haidian District.

Posts on social media say that police checked the phones of young people, especially students', to see if they had VPN, which is used to circumvent China’s internet firewall, or foreign social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook.

Although some posts on Twitter and Telegram are still calling people to go out to protest, massive gatherings did not materialise. It is believed that some of the accounts are actually controlled by police to lure protesters, while some of the followers said they were warned by police.

After the outbreak of protests in major cities and universities. Tsinghua University, where students protested on the campus on Sunday, announced free buses to take students to railway stations and airports to allow them to return to their hometowns.

Other universities in Beijing and Guangdong announced the same measures, which some believe are meant to prevent students from protesting.

Some students in Hong Kong responded to the “Blank Paper Revolution”. The rally was monitored by police.

Alexandra Wong Fung Yiu, a 66-year-old activist in Hong Kong, was attacked, pushed to the ground by a young man.

Chinese authorities and official media are still silent on the protests. However, on Chinese social media, many posts have begun to blame “foreign forces” claiming that protesters “were paid”.

When searching for information about the cities where protests took place, lots of porn material pops up. Research found that the volume of spam also suddenly spiked; it is believed that fake accounts controlled by bots aim at disrupting discussions about the protests.

On Monday, Chen Wenqing, Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Committee, said that the authorities must “maintain state security and social stability,” the Xinhua state news agency reported. The speech did not refer to ongoing protests.

Chinese former President Jiang Zemin passed away this week while protests were going on. Jiang was appointed as the successor of Deng Xiaoping after Tiananmen massacre in 1989.

Under Jiang’s rule, the economy kept booming for one decade and there was less control on society. Xi’s authorities are censoring the internet and curbing possible protests in the name of paying tribute to Jiang.

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