Beijing, Jan 26 (EFE).- The Human Rights Watch organization called on the Chinese government Thursday to immediately release those detained after participating in protests in November against the official “zero Covid-19” policy.
“Chinese authorities must release and drop all charges against people detained for participating in these protests. They must also stop harassing protesters’ lawyers and friends and stop censoring related information on social media,” the NGO said in a statement.
Several days ago, other organizations such as Chinese Human Rights Defenders denounced the arrest of more than 20 people who participated in the protests in Beijing on Nov. 27 on charges of “causing disputes and problems.”
HRW said that under Chinese criminal law, this offense is often used to “criminalize peaceful protests” and “silence critics” and can carry sentences of up to five years in prison.
Those arrested include journalists, artists, writers or teachers, according to CHRD.
“More protesters may have been detained or subjected to enforced disappearances, although their cases are not publicly known given the Chinese authorities’ practice of threatening families of detainees into silence. HRW cannot independently verify all the lists of disappeared that have been published,” the organization said.
Footage of a woman, Zhi Xin, recording a video on camera days before she was supposedly arrested on Dec. 23, also circulated on Twitter.
The woman claims to record the video in “case of disappearing,” and denounces having been questioned by the Police on Nov. 29, two days after participating in protests near the Liangma River in the Chinese capital.
“Young people in China are paying a heavy price for daring to speak out for freedom and human rights,” HRW researcher Yaqiu Wang said in the statement.
“Governments and international institutions around the world should show their support and call on Chinese authorities to release them immediately,” he added.
The widespread discontent throughout the country with the “zero Covid-19” policy ended up provoking peaceful protests and vigils in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai at the end of November. Protesters showed their rejection of restrictions then in force and displayed sheets of blank paper representing their opposition to censorship.
The protests broke out after the death of 10 people in an apparently confined building in Urumqi and in it, protesters chanted slogans such as “I don’t want PCR, I want to eat” or “give me back my freedom.”
Protesters not only showed their discontent with the “zero Covid-19” but, on some occasions, went so far as to demand the resignation of the country’s President Xi Jinping, praised in recent years by official press as the main coordinator of China’s pandemic policy.
Some netizens also posted articles on the WeChat social network that only consisted of words such as “fine,” “yes” or “okay,” protesting the systematic removal of content critical of the authorities’ performance.
“Attending a vigil and asking the authorities to respect human rights is not a crime. The arrests only show Beijing’s deep fear of the power of the country’s youth,” HRW said.
Authorities reacted with an increase in police deployment and by fencing off areas with the intention of preventing a repetition of the marches; Since then, some online testimonies have denounced arrests.
Shortly after the protests, authorities began to dismantle the “zero Covid-19” policy, leading to a huge wave of infections that led to high hospital pressure and tens of thousands of deaths.
“Shortly after the protests, the government lifted most of the restrictions it had in place. With the low vaccination rate among the older population and the lack of medical preparation, the decision resulted in rapid spread, hospitalizations, and deaths in the country. The authorities lowered the number of deaths by preventing hospitals and families from recording the causes of many of the deaths as Covid-19,” HRW said. EFE