Protests against the Chinese communist regime for its harsh COVID-19 lockdowns and other severe measures have rocked the nation, with demonstrators from different countries joining in to show support.
Protests in China were triggered by the horrific deaths of at least 10 people in Urumqi, Xinjiang, who died due to an apartment fire. First responders were unable to reach the scene on time due to prevailing COVID-19 blockades and lockouts throughout the residential compound. After the video of the incident went viral on Chinese social media, it sparked outrage. In Urumqi, multiple protests broke out on Nov. 25, with residents demanding that the lockdowns be revoked. Authorities announced the loosening of restrictions the next day.
In solidarity with protests in China, small demonstrations and vigils have been held in cities across the world, including Sydney, London, Paris, and Tokyo, according to Reuters. The protests were organized by expatriate dissidents and students.
At the Chinese consulate in London, thousands of international students gathered to mourn the victims of the Urumqi fire, shouting slogans like “CCP Step Down” and “Xi Jinping Step Down.” In Tokyo, people gathered at the Shinjuku train station to protest against the Chinese regime.
In Shanghai, hundreds of protestors gathered on a street late Saturday, with candles and vigils for those who died in the fire. Some called for the government to issue a public apology for the deaths.
“Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, that they don’t have any courage,” an Uyghur ethnic man told AP.
“Actually in my heart, I also thought this way. But then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave.”
On Sunday, protests erupted in Shanghai once more, with people demanding an end to PCR tests and insisting on their right to basic freedoms.
In videos from places like Guangzhou, Nanjing, and others, protestors were seen fighting against the police and dismantling barricades. In Beijing, demonstrations were reportedly held at 50 universities.
At Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s alma mater Tsinghua University, around 2,000 students called for “freedom of speech” and demanded easing down of COVID-19 controls.
Protesters Raise Multiple Issues
Some of the solidarity protests held abroad also featured a focus on other human rights issues. In the London protests, demonstrators chanted slogans, “Stand with Xinjiang,” Stand with Tibet,” “Stand with Hong Kong,” Stand with Taiwan,” “Resist Dictatorship,” and “Resist Violence.”
However, some protestors want the focus to be kept on the Urumqi fire and the COVID-19 restrictions. An organizer of a planned Monday protest in New York told Reuters that the demonstration would avoid issues like the internment of Uyghurs and Taiwanese independence.
“We have spoken to some activists from Taiwan and Xinjiang … We’ve agreed to refrain from (that),” he said. “We know that may alienate a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese police are also suppressing the press. In Shanghai, a journalist from BBC was beaten by police officers and arrested briefly for covering the protests.
Social media footage showed several police officers grabbing journalist Ed Lawrence and pinning him to the ground, according to BBC. The media outlet claims that the officers kicked the journalist before carrying him away in handcuffs.
“It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties. We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd,” BBC said in a statement.
A journalist from Switzerland’s national broadcaster RTS was surrounded by three police officers on one occasion while covering the protests.
The journalist spoke on live camera that he was going to be taken away to the police station, according to Reuters. But after he identified as a journalist, the officers left.