A young protester has been held in police detention in southern China for nine days after taking part in rallies against Covid restrictions, their mother told AFP, expressing fear and anguish over her daughter’s safety.
China last week effectively ended its harsh zero-Covid policy, following years of economic damage and simmering public discontent that erupted in nationwide demonstrations on a scale unseen in decades.
But while the decision to lift the hardline regulations sparked a wave of jubilation — and suggestions by state media that the government was responding to the changing mood of the people — police had already begun a crackdown.
Yang Zijing, 25, was detained on the evening of December 4 in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou after attending a protest the week before, their mother said.
“They detained so many people who were gradually released, why is she still in there?,” she said.
The woman, surnamed Gao, said her daughter’s roommate told her that a group of police asked to check the water meter and did not show identification when entering.
“They searched the apartment and took her away, along with her phone and laptop.”
VIDEO: Chinese police detain people on Monday at a site in Shanghai where demonstrators gathered over the weekend to protest Covid-19 lockdowns and call for greater political freedoms.— AFP News Agency (@AFP) November 28, 2022
Police were also pulling people aside and ordering them to delete photos on their phones pic.twitter.com/CogvwU4V8z
AFP has learned of multiple cases of mostly young protesters detained for up to 24 hours in Beijing and Shanghai, with police deploying sophisticated technology to track them down and threaten them in phone calls and in-person interrogations.
Gao rushed to Guangzhou on December 8 upon learning of her daughter’s detention, but both she and a lawyer have been refused access to either her daughter or the police officer handling her case.
“They refused to give us any information,” she said.
Under Chinese law, when an individual is taken into custody and interrogated, police have 24 hours to decide whether to release them or formally detain them.
If a suspect is detained, they must then be transferred to a pretrial detention centre within 24 hours.
But Gao said police had still not transferred Yang to a detention centre — allegedly due to the “epidemic situation”.
A police officer at the Guangzhou station told AFP he could not comment on Yang’s case over the phone.
A lawyer offering pro bono advice to protesters said on condition of anonymity that the majority of detentions she was aware of had not exceeded 24 hours.
But at least six demonstrators in Shanghai and Guangzhou had been held for a week or longer with some likely to receive criminal charges, she said.
“There were no reports about (the protests) in Chinese media and I had no idea it happened… I didn’t know why they were holding up blank paper,” said Gao, a reference to the blank sheets of paper held at protests as a symbol of opposition to censorship.
Friends of Yang describe them as a bookish and introverted person who possessed a strong sense of social justice and advocated for marginalised groups.
But they had suffered during the pandemic as a recent graduate working in a tough economic climate, her mother said.
“She was struggling financially. She felt like she couldn’t do anything in the past two years, lockdowns were everywhere,” she said.
“Now everyone thinks about the benefits that China’s reopening will bring, but what about the people who are locked up for demanding reopening?”
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