Beijing, 28 November 2022 (dpa/MIA) – Protests against the Chinese government’s strict coronavirus containment measures continued in several cities on Monday, with police cracking down on hundreds of demonstrators near Beijing’s diplomatic quarter.
Police have massively increased their presence in several major cities. In the capital Beijing, in Shanghai and several other cities with over a million inhabitants, security forces were increasingly visible on the streets on Monday.
Police officers also examined mobile phones of passers-by for suspicious information, as witnesses reported on social media.
Several protesters have been detained since the weekend, though it was initially not clear how many.
“What they are addressing is not a reflection of what has actually happened,” Foreign Office spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing in response to a journalist’s question about the demonstrations.
In his remarkably brief response, the spokesperson also expressed his conviction that the fight against the pandemic would be successful – “under the leadership of the Communist Party and with the support of the people.”
The protests, highly unusual in the Communist-ruled country with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants, were apparently triggered by anger over a deadly fire that broke out in a residential building in the regional capital of Xinjiang, Ürümqi, in which at least 10 people were killed last week.
Several residents said on social media that the coronavirus restrictions had hampered rescue efforts, with some people struggling to escape the burning building due to locked doors. Some also left their apartments too late, or not at all, out of fear of violating the lockdown restrictions, according to reports.
Large parts of the Xinjiang region and its capital have been under lockdown for more than 100 days.
In what could be seen as a protest against censorship, many demonstrators on Monday held up blank sheets of paper, shouting slogans like “Lift the lockdowns,” and “We don’t want PCR testing, we want freedom.”
People also took to the streets in Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing. Video footage of the protests circulating on social media quickly disappeared amid China’s censorship rules.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) criticized Chinese police for their crackdown on journalists during protests in Shanghai and Beijing.
“Journalists from several media outlets were physically harassed by police while covering the unrest,” the FCCC said on Monday. At least two journalists had been temporarily detained, it said.
Earlier, the BBC said its reporter Ed Lawrence had been detained in Shanghai and said he had been abused by police officers. Lawrence was beaten by police officers during the arrest, even though he had journalistic accreditation. He was only released hours later.
A spokesperson for the Beijing Foreign Ministry justified the arrest on Monday by saying that the reporter had not identified himself as a journalist and had not voluntarily shown his press card.
China is currently seeing its highest Covid-19 case numbers since the beginning of the pandemic. On Monday, the health commission in Beijing reported a record number of some 40,000 new cases.
Extensive restrictions on movement are currently in place in multiple Chinese cities with more than 1 million inhabitants, such as Beijing, the severely affected southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and Chongqing.