China Arrests COVID Protesters

COVID-19 testing in China | Image by Wirestock Creators

In an apparent bid to intimidate those who protested against the government’s strict COVID-19 restrictions in November, four Chinese women were recently arrested by the authorities.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Chinese citizens grew increasingly discontent amid months-long lockdowns and mandatory testing as their country attempted a strict zero-COVID policy.

As protestors began to take to the streets in most large cities in November, marking the biggest wave of civil disobedience since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office a decade ago, authorities were quick to try and calm things down. This included launching inquiries into those who attended the protests, as The Dallas Express previously reported.

Nonetheless, Cao Zhixin, Zhai Dengrui, Li Yuanjing, and Li Siqi are the first to be formally arrested for their participation in the protests, according to The New York Times (NYT).

News of the four women’s detainment was not publicly announced by the Chinese authorities, but rather circulated among the protestors themselves.

The four arrested women have reportedly been interrogated about their social groups and the events they attend. Others have reportedly been taken into custody as well.

Throughout the recent public unrest, Chinese officials have insisted that it was caused by outside, and especially Western, influences. For instance, Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, referred to protesters as pawns manipulated by “foreign forces,” as reported by the NYT.

In the cases of Cao Zhixin, Zhai Dengrui, Li Yuanjing, and Li Siqi, they were all questioned about the types of literature they read and their feminist views by the authorities.

The four women were accused by police of starting fights and causing chaos. Both crimes in China are punishable by up to half a decade in prison, the NYT reported.

The four arrested women have not backtracked on their dissent and stand firm that their actions were justified.

“At the scene, we respected public order,” Cao Zhixin said, according to the NYT. Cao Zhixin, a 26-year-old editor, made the statement in a self-recorded video she gave friends before her December arrest.

How many people have been detained and questioned by the Chinese authorities for their dissent is unknown. Some Chinese have left a trail of the names of those allegedly arrested since the protests. Information and social media are heavily regulated in China. Still, dissenters say their investigations have determined that about 25 people have been taken away by police but not previously arrested or charged with crimes.

Smaller protests have occurred following the major disruptions that started in November, and the arrest of the four women is more likely a warning to other Chinese women and dissenters than a direct suppression of the four, the NYT reported.

Since November’s unrest, zero-COVID constraints were loosened and the country has tried to bounce back from the lockdowns, both socially and economically.

However, China has been plagued by overarching difficulties, including an increase in COVID-related deaths.

High unemployment for younger Chinese citizens has also followed the loosening of virus restrictions, according to the NYT.

The country’s economic struggles are felt elsewhere, too. China missed its desired 5.5% increase in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, with actual growth at just 3%. The missed GDP target was coupled with the first population decline in China in over 60 years.

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