Chinese protesters overturned a vehicle and trashed a COVID-19 testing station as unprecedented uprisings continued late Monday — defying a huge police crackdown that even saw cops force-checking pedestrians’ phones.
Videos shared online showed a crowd jubilantly destroying the testing tent in Guangzhou, one of several cities to see protests late Monday, albeit smaller than those at the weekend.
As throngs of people filled the streets — some waving white sheets of paper, the symbol of the protests — several were seen tipping over a van seemingly connected to the testing station.
Other footage showed a large military vehicle moving in, with a line of officials marching in wearing hazmat suits, which journalist William Yang, president of the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club, confirmed was police “being deployed to try to disperse the crowd” in the same area.
Videos of other confrontations also emerged online, despite widespread reports of Chinese censors trying to delete any or block it getting seen.
In Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern Zhejiang province, videos showed hundreds of police occupying a large square on Monday night, preventing people from congregating.
One video showed police, surrounded by a small crowd of people holding smartphones, making an arrest while others tried to pull back the person being detained.
In Shanghai and Beijing, the two biggest cities which saw the most fervent protests at the weekend, police were out in force to make sure crowds could not gather on Monday and again on Tuesday.
“It’s really scary,” said Beijing resident Philip Qin, 22, as images also showed apparently violent arrests during the protests.
Police also stopped pedestrians and checked their phones, according to witnesses and numerous videos.
Officers have looked for footage of protests, both as potential proof that the person took part in the protests as well as to delete it and stop it from spreading online, according to local reports.
Police have also been checking for the blocked Telegram messaging app, which has been used by protesters, as well as virtual private networks (VPNs) used to access it, according to those who’ve been stopped.
Yang, the Taiwan reporter’s association president, told the BBC on Tuesday that many of his panicked sources have been deleting all their messages and online chats.
Other protesters say they’ve started using dating apps to evade censorship and police scrutiny.
As well as stopping people on the street, police have also started contacting people thought to have been at the protests, several said, as security forces have detained an unknown number of people.
Two protesters told Reuters that callers identifying themselves as Beijing police officers asked them to report to a police station on Tuesday with written accounts of their activities on Sunday night.
A student also said they were asked by their college if they had been in an area where a protest happened and to provide a written account.
“We are all desperately deleting our chat history,” said another person who witnessed the Beijing protest and declined to be identified.
Several universities have also started sending students home in an effort to “defuse the situation” by dispersing potential student activists, according to Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.
The demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong are the largest in decades since the army crushed the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Simmering anger with three years of stringent “zero-COVID” policies finally boiled over after at least 10 people were killed in an apartment fire in Urumqi, where some residents have been forced to stay for four months. Many suggested people trying to escape the blaze were blocked by locked doors or other pandemic restrictions, which officials deny.
However, the protests have also turned into anger at Xi Jinping, who recently began a third, norm-breaking five-year term as Communist Party leader.
In Shanghai, a crowd was filmed chanting, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” in an unprecedented display of dissent.
“This protest symbolizes the beginning of a new era in China … in which Chinese civil society has decided not to be silent and to confront tyranny,” said Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 demonstrations who now lives in exile.
That, however, raises the fear that authorities will again respond with “stronger force to violently suppress protesters,” the exiled protester warned.
With Post wires