China’s zero-Covid protesters joined a vigil in Beijing. Then their lives were turned upside down – CNN

CNN  — 

When one by one, the friends of a young woman living in Beijing began disappearing — detained by the police after attending a vigil together weeks earlier — she felt sure that her time was nearing.

“As I record this video, four of my friends have already been taken away,” the woman, age 26, said, speaking clearly into the camera in a video recording from late December obtained by CNN.

“I entrusted some friends of mine with making this video public after my disappearance. In other words, when you see this video, I have been taken away by the police for a while.”

The woman — a recent graduate who is an editor at a publishing house — is among eight people, mainly young, female professionals in the same extended social circle, that CNN has learned have been quietly detained by authorities in the weeks following a peaceful protest in the Chinese capital on November 27.

That protest was one of many that broke out in major cities across the country in an unprecedented showing of discontent with China’s now-dismantled zero-Covid controls.

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Selina Wang November 27 2022 SCREENRAB

CNN reporter at site of protest against China’s zero-Covid policy
01:16 – Source: CNN

CNN has confirmed that two of those eight were released on bail Thursday evening and Friday, respectively, just days ahead of the Lunar New Year. One release was confirmed to CNN on Friday by her lawyer, who declined to comment further on whether she had been charged with a crime. The second was confirmed by a source with direct knowledge.

CNN has not been able to confirm whether others were released and if so, how many.

Two of the young women detained, including the editor, have been formally charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” people directly familiar with their cases said Friday — a step that could bring them closer to standing trial, with neither granted bail as of that day.

The overall number of people detained in connection with the protests within China’s notoriously opaque security and judicial systems also remains uncertain.

Beijing authorities have made no official comment about the detentions and the city’s Public Security Bureau did not respond to a faxed request for comment from CNN. There has been no public confirmation from the authorities involved that these or any other detentions were made in connection with the protests.

People hold up blank pieces of paper during a protest against China's zero-Covid measures on November 27, 2022 in Beijing, China.

CNN followed up on Monday with the district branch that is believed to be responsible for those detained following Beijing’s November 27 protest, but the branch didn’t respond prior to publication.

What is known about these detentions, carried out quietly in the weeks after November 27, stands as a chilling marker of the lengths to which China’s ruling Communist Party will go to stamp out all forms of dissent and free speech — and the tactics used to counter perceived threats.

The account that follows has, except where otherwise indicated, been reconstructed from interviews with three separate sources, who each directly know at least one of the people who were detained and are familiar with the circumstances of others within that circle.

CNN has agreed not to name any sources due to their concerns about retribution from the Chinese state and the sensitivities of speaking to foreign media. CNN is also not naming those detained for similar reasons.

A night-time vigil

Late in the evening of November 27, demonstrators gathered along the banks of Beijing’s Liangma River to remember at least 10 people killed in a fire that consumed their locked-down building in the northwestern city Urumqi. Public anger had grown following the emergence of video footage that appeared to show lockdown measures delaying firefighters from accessing the scene and reaching victims.

Many in the crowd that gathered in the heart of Beijing’s embassy district that night held up blank sheets of white A4-sized paper — a metaphor for the countless critical posts, news articles and outspoken social media accounts that were wiped from the internet by China’s censors. Some decried censorship and called for greater political freedoms, or shouted slogans calling for an end to incessant Covid tests and lockdowns. Others lit their phone flashlights in remembrance of the lives lost in the enforcement of that zero-Covid policy — the lights reflecting on the river flowing below, according to images and reporting by CNN at the time.

While police lined the streets that evening, the mood was largely calm and peaceful.

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covid protests china

‘Unbelievable scenes’ in China as protesters speak out against zero-Covid policy
03:18 – Source: CNN