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Chinese authorities are looking for COVID protesters

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By Martin Quin Pollard and Eduardo Baptista

BEIJING (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into some of the people who gathered during the weekend’s COVID-19 protests, people who were at the Beijing demonstrations told RockedBuzz via Reuters, as police remained in large numbers on the streets of the city.

Two protesters told RockedBuzz via Reuters that callers identifying themselves as Beijing police officers asked them to report to a police station on Tuesday with written accounts of their activities Sunday night. One student also said he was asked by his college if he had been in an area where a protest occurred and to provide a written account.

“We are all desperately deleting our chat history,” said another person who witnessed the Beijing protest and declined to be identified. The person said police asked how they heard about the protest and what was the reason they had gone.

It was unclear how the authorities identified the people they wanted to question about their participation in the protests, and it was also unclear how many of these people the authorities intended to question.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said rights and freedoms must be exercised within the framework of the law.

Simmering discontent over stringent COVID prevention policies three years after the pandemic began ignited in protests in cities thousands of miles away over the weekend.

Mainland China’s largest wave of civil disobedience since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago comes as the number of COVID cases hit record daily highs and large parts of several cities face new lockdowns.

A health official said complaints about COVID controls were mostly about their inflexible implementation.

“The problems highlighted by the public are not aimed at epidemic prevention and control per se, but focus on simplifying prevention and control measures,” Cheng Youquan told reporters, adding that the authorities will address the urgent concerns.

Officials in southern economic powerhouse Guangdong announced on Tuesday evening they would allow close contacts of COVID cases to quarantine at home after health authorities called for more targeted measures.

COVID has spread despite China largely isolating itself from the world and requiring significant sacrifices of its population to comply with frequent testing and prolonged isolation.

The lockdowns have exacerbated one of the sharpest growth slowdowns China has experienced in decades, disrupting global supply chains and rattling financial markets.

Chinese stocks and the yuan rallied as investors bet signs of civil unrest could lead to an easing of the brakes and encouraged an easing of regulations on developer fundraising.

China’s bluechip CSI300 index rose 3% for its best session in three weeks, the Shanghai Composite Index gained 2.3% to hit a two-month high and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 5% .

Plans to increase the vaccination rate among the elderly also helped lift market sentiment.


Video obtained by RockedBuzz via Reuters on Tuesday showed protesters in the eastern city of Jinan clashing with police in hazmat suits and chanting “lift lock” as they tried to push through barricades. RockedBuzz via Reuters was able to confirm the location in the city’s Lixia district from the buildings and road layout.

In Hangzhou, the capital of eastern Zhejiang province, social media videos that RockedBuzz via Reuters could not independently verify showed hundreds of police occupying a large plaza on Monday night, preventing people from congregating.

One video showed police, surrounded by a small crowd of people with smartphones in hand, making an arrest while others tried to drag the detained person back.

Hangzhou police did not immediately comment.

In Shanghai and Beijing, police were patrolling areas where groups on the Telegram messaging service had advised people to gather again. The police presence on Monday night ensured that no gatherings took place.

“It’s really scary,” said Beijing resident Philip Qin, 22, referring to the large number of police on the streets.

Residents said police asked people passing through those areas to check their phones for virtual private networks (VPNs) 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 from the Chinese internet.

Some protesters had used dating apps to evade censorship and police scrutiny.

The spark for the protests was a fire last week in the western city of Urumqi which according to authorities killed 10 people.

Some internet users said COVID lockdown measures hampered efforts to save people in the burning building. Officials denied it.


Prominent nationalist bloggers, such as Ren Yi, nephew of Communist Party leader Ren Zhongyi, and Yu Li, who uses the pseudonym Sima Nan, wrote that the protests were fomented by “foreign forces”.

“What is their purpose? On the one hand, it is to escalate internal conflicts. On the other, it is to see if they can fully politicize issues related to our health and epidemic prevention policies,” Ren wrote in his blog.

Authorities regularly warn that “foreign forces” are endangering national security and have accused them of fomenting the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Officials say COVID policy has kept the death toll in the thousands, avoiding the millions of deaths elsewhere. Many analysts say easing policy before increasing vaccination rates could lead to widespread illness and deaths, overwhelming hospitals.

In an editorial that did not mention the protests, People’s Daily, the official Party newspaper, urged citizens to “firmly implement” COVID policies.

“The harder it gets, the more you have to grit your teeth,” she said.

(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Martin Quin Pollard, Yew Lun Tian and Albee Zhang in Beijing and Casey Hall in Shanghai; Screenplay by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

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