Beijing police have called a recent series of protests supporting a self-proclaimed charity “illegal,” as a clearance operation against demonstrators reportedly took place on Monday night.

Demonstrators began gathering over the weekend outside Beijing’s Dahongmen International Convention Exhibition Centre and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate after last week’s arrest of Shanxinhui founder Zhang Tianming on suspicion of operating a pyramid scheme. Participants claimed that as many as 60,000 people protested on Monday morning.

They gathered to protest against the government’s investigation into Shanxinhui, which had resulted in the freezing of funds that supporters of the company say were used to help the poor.

Shanxinhui charity ponzi scheme protest beijing
Dahongmen protests. Photo: 即时中国大陆映像 screenshots via Twitter.

According to its now-defunct website, Guangdong Shenzhen Shanxinhui Culture Communication Co Ltd promised “extremely poor” members who “donated” to the company a profit of 50 per cent on their investments. “Rich” members were promised a profit of up to 10 per cent. Members interviewed by Hong Kong’s RTHK on Monday denied they were participating in a pyramid scheme.

‘Incited’ protests

On Monday evening, the Beijing Public Security Bureau announced on its Weibo social media account that the protests, which blocked off several streets, were illegal.

“On July 24, 2017, some ‘Shanxinhui’ members were incited by people with other intentions to illegally assemble in Beijing, severely disrupting the social order of the capital,” read the announcement. “This behaviour constitutes a suspected violation of laws and regulations.”

“The Public Security Bureau has assembled police officers to maintain order, to keep the crowd safe, and to encourage demonstrators to depart from the scene,” it added. “[Officers] have taken away individuals who pick quarrels and disobey orders for investigation.”

Several reports emerged on Twitter and overseas Chinese media claiming that Beijing police began a clearance operation at the Dahongmen protest site on Monday afternoon, which was completed in the evening.

See also: Protests erupt in Beijing after arrest of self-proclaimed ‘charity’ founder for fraud

The reports added that some demonstrators were taken away on large coaches – back to their places of origin across China – while others were simply dispersed.

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It is unclear whether any demonstrators continued to gather on Tuesday.

Mainland Chinese media have not reported on the protests, while no reports of the demonstrations are viewable on Weibo.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.