SIPA USA Chinese students demonstrated in Hong Kong last November
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:58
Sjoerd den Daas
Sjoerd den Daas
China’s new prime minister Li Qiang prefers to look ahead again. “The economy is stabilizing and gaining momentum,” he said in his first public appearance in his new role. Li, 63, who as party chief in Shanghai implemented one of China’s most ruthless lockdowns, seems to have already forgotten the sacrifices of zero covid. The people who resisted it are far from being so.
They took to the streets with candles and blank A4s. Some called for freedom of expression, others even wanted regime change. The majority mainly wanted to get rid of the draconian corona measures. “She wanted to mourn the deaths of Ürümqi and an end to the lockdowns,” says a close friend of protester Cao Zhixin, who, like several others, has been detained for three months.
Twelve weeks later, several police cars are still stationed around the Liangmahe, the site of the protests in Beijing. One of them drives off as soon as a video camera comes out of our bag. Replaced by a Nissan with plainclothes officers. Nothing to see here, seems to be the message. The wounds of the people who were there have barely healed.
“The corona policy of that one man was unbearable. An unnecessarily long torture,” says a friend of another detained protester. “But no matter how great the oppression, it’s rare that people on this scale take to the streets to stand up against it,” she says. She is abroad, where it is even easier to talk. “In China you quickly run into problems.”
Surveillance and encrypted messages
Hardly anyone wants to talk within the national borders. Artist Luyun agrees, although she doesn’t have much to say. “I heard she was taken away, I don’t know much more. She couldn’t live to see the opening of this exhibition,” she says of Li Siqi, who has been detained since mid-December. The texts on the exhibition are written by Siqi. “She stopped using WeChat because she thought she was being monitored.”
An e-mail on a large screen at the entrance, written by Luyun’s girlfriend, tells more. “I have heard that Siqi has disappeared again,” the text reads. “Temperatures have dropped, it’s cold.” The Pekingese winter may be giving way to spring, but it remains chilly, say friends and acquaintances of the detainees NOS spoke to in recent weeks.
AFPEa large protest last November in Beijing against the government’s zero covid policy
Some have taken a second phone to communicate via encrypted messaging apps. Several times the phone turns off, the SIM card is pulled out. Some say they experience surveillance, no one feels safe. That is not surprising, in a period when friends and acquaintances can suddenly disappear. An acquaintance of PwC accountant Li Yuanjing, who also rebelled, describes how Yuanjing did not show up at her own birthday party. She is also still in custody.
People have been released. Bar owner Lin Yun, for example. Like several of his friends and colleagues, he has been released. How free they are exactly is unclear. They should have sworn not to talk to the media. Lin Yyun’s nine-year-old bar, a popular venue for video screenings and lectures, was closed shortly after his release. It is unclear whether the closure is related to the protests.
Jail sentences for ‘looking for a fight’
Charges have since been formulated against several protesters, including Zhixin. First it was called disturbance of public order, now ‘picking a fight’ and ‘causing trouble’. Prison sentences for this can be up to five years. “Quarge seeking is so broad that it can be used against anyone,” said a close friend of Zhixin’s. Advocaten sees it as a symptom of a lack of proof.
One person concerned complains that there is “hardly anything on paper”. “It’s one big cover-up,” she says about the way the Chinese legal system handles these kinds of cases. It is unclear how many people have been arrested following protests in cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou. It would be dozens, possibly more.
“A black hole,” says Zhixin’s close friend. He already assumed that there would be no question of release at least until the closing ceremony of the politically sensitive People’s Congress. When? “I’m afraid it will take a long time, but it is unpredictable. So far they seem to be doing everything they can to keep her in detention longer to demoralize her, but she is mentally strong.”
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