BEIJING (AP) — Under China’s pervasive anti-virus controls, millions of people are confined to their homes, restricting business and travel. The protests could have worsened the death toll in an apartment fire in the NW.
On Saturday, about 300 protesters gathered in Shanghai to mourn the deaths of at least 10 people from a house fire last Friday.
Videos claiming to be from Nanjing, Guangzhou, and other Chinese cities were posted on social media that showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits. Other videos show protests occurring in Urumqi, but the Associated Press wasn’t able to verify the details of those videos.
President Xi Jinping’s government faces mounting anger at its “zero-COVID” policy, which has shut down access to areas throughout China to isolate every case. Other governments are easing controls and trying to work with the virus, not against it.
The ruling Communist Party in China has kept infection low by closing any businesses that don’t comply, but at what economic and human costs?
At least one thing all these protesters had in common was their distant hope for Xi to step down or for the ruling party to give up power.
Last month, Party leaders promised to provide fewer restrictions as they phased out quarantines. But that was before the upsurge of infections pushed daily cases to over 30,000 for the first time. Now local authorities are imposing restrictions that exceed what is allowed by national law.
The fire deaths in Urumqi caused such anger for onlookers that they had questions about whether firefighters who needed three hours to extinguish the blaze or victims trying to escape might have been sequestered from their emergency exits by locked doors or other forms of control. Authorities denied this, but it became the focal point for public anger about what most people called tyrannical controls, ruling party propaganda, and censorship.
Some people took to the street in Shanghai with flowers and candles at midnight to voice their frustration at the Chinese occupation. Zhao, one of the activists who attended, said: “Urumqi, November 24, those who died rest in peace.”
Zhao said that one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed, and that police stomped on his feet as he tried to stop them from taking one of his friends away. He left barefoot, without his shoes.
Protesters in Xinjiang chanted slogans that included “Xi Jinping, step down, Communist Party, step down,” “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock China,” and “Press freedom.”
Zhao said that around 100 police lined up in an attempt to prevent the protesters from gathering or even leaving. Later on, more police arrived on the buses.
“Xu,” said that there were actually many more than 1000 protesters in the crowd, but the police just let them pass.
Videos, photos, and posts have popped up on both Western and Chinese social media showing protests in Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu, Chongqing, and Urumqi.
An anonymously-shot video of protesters chanting “remove the Communist Party, remove Xi Jinping” is said to have been shot in Urumqi.
The risk of protest in Xinjiang is even higher following the security crackdowns against ethnic minorities such as Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim people. In 2018, more than one million Uyghurs were detained.
Most protesters in the videos were Han Chinese. An Uyghur woman in Urumqi said Uyghurs were too scared to join protests because they would be detained.
As the Han Chinese woman said, ‘if we dare say such things, we will be taken to prison or to the camps.’
Posting on Chinese social media quickly disappeared, which Beijing often does to suppress criticism it worries will serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule.
Some people in Xinjiang have been confined to their homes since early August, and are struggling without access to food or medicine. They’ve posted messages online, asking for help.
Authorities in China on Saturday announced they had achieved “societal zero-COVID” and restrictions would be lifted in Urumqi, Korla, and other cities. Authorities said that taxi, railway, bus, and other public services had been suspended for weeks and will resume on Monday. China Southern Airlines also announced it would resume flights from Urumqi to four Chinese cities starting Monday.
Chinese online commenters reacted with disbelief and sarcasm to the news that the new birth defects were under control. “Only China can achieve this,” wrote one user on Sina Weibo, as translated by Reuters.
Anger boiled over earlier after Urumqi officials blamed the deaths from the fire on the residents of the tower.
“Some people were unable to get themselves out,” Li Wensheng, head of Urumqi’s fire department, said at the news conference.
Police announced that they had arrested a woman for spreading falsehoods about the death toll, which was not true.
On Friday night, people peacefully marched in chilly winter jackets amid a heavy police presence as it snowed.
Videos of the protests feature people holding Chinese flags, shouting “Open up, open up!” and pushing against rows of police in white protective suits.
Two Urumqi residents who declined to be identified for fear of retribution told NBC News that large-scale protests occurred in the city on Friday. One of them said he had friends that participated.
The Associated Press pinpointed the location of two of the protest videos in China. In one video, police with face masks and hospital gowns faced off against shouting protesters. In another, one protester spoke to a crowd about their demands. It was unclear how widespread these protests were.
During a recent speech, Xi defended the strategy as an example of how China is better than the United States and other Western countries. The policy forces people to comply with drastic measures like shutting down schools and offices and enforcing face masks.
But in recent months, support for “zero-COVID” has been falling. Protests against the system have intensified and the public’s anger has compounded quickly.
Last week, the government of the central city of Zhengzhou apologized for the death of a 4-month-old girl who was under quarantine. Her father said his efforts to take her to a hospital were delayed after ambulance workers rejected their help because he tested positive for the virus.
The Uyghur woman in Urumqi said she had not been able to leave her apartment since August 8th and was not even allowed to open her window. On Friday, she and her neighbors defied the order, opening their windows and shouting in protest.
One woman screamed, “No more lockdowns,” over and over again.