Widespread protests and demonstrations against China’s harsh lockdown measures in response to rising Covid-19 cases have erupted in cities and university campuses across China. Although the crackdown on protestors, including those on foreign journalists covering the protests marches, has also intensified, this has not thwarted those coming out on the streets against the measures that are part of China’s zero-Covid policy.
On Friday, 24 November, a fire broke out in an apartment building in Urumqi, in the west Xinjiang region of China – where a lockdown was in place – killing 10 people, including a child. Rumours swirled that the fire brigade could not reach the building in time because of barriers installed on the streets to prevent people from moving about during the lockdown.
This triggered a wave of civil disobedience movement from Nanjing to Shanghai, from Xi’an to Beijing, from Wuhan to Guangzhou, and beyond. The incident acted as a catalyst to trigger protests from people frustrated from being locked in their homes for several months, with no relaxation of rules, and regular Covid testing.
Although the Chinese usually refrain from criticising the ruling party and its leaders in public for fear of reprisals, the recent protests have been different. Despite police presence, demonstrators were heard shouting slogans against the ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping.
The police have been closing streets to non-local traffic, putting up barricades, and making arrests. However, this has not deterred the protesting crowds from hitting the streets repeatedly.
Chinese police also detained a BBC journalist covering a protest in Shanghai on Sunday. Videos captured the moment when journalist Ed Lawrence was handcuffed and taken away from the protest site for filming the agitation. “He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist,” the British broadcaster said in a statement. He was, however, released later.
As the country is seeing its worst outbreak in three years, there has also been a surge in clashes between residents and task forces that are responsible for locally managing the epidemic situation. Videos shows protest from Wuhan, with residents tearing down barricades urging the authorities to end lockdown.