Situation of anti-COVID control protesters worrisome

During his meeting with European Council President Charles Michel on December 1, 2022, President Xi Jinping tried to explain away the widespread protests against China’s “zero- Covid” policy by blaming the unrest on a few “frustrated” students. Soon after, China abruptly reversed course and relaxed all Covid controls without warning or preparation. Signs for Covid testing booths and public awareness posters were quickly removed without a trace. The app used to produce a green health code for individuals to enter shops, commute or travel, and to track close Covid contacts based on their phone signals was discontinued.

Despite Xi’s tone of understanding towards the protestors when speaking in public, many participants of the protests, including young students and professionals frustrated with the Covid restrictions, were subjected to coercive measures.

Reports of some protestors have been released or were released on bail (pending investigation 取保候审) emerged before the weekend of January 21, 2023, the eve of the Lunar New Year. However, many of these protesters are believed to still be in custody, and their whereabouts are unknown.

The whereabouts of Wu Yanan (吴亚楠), an associate professor of Philosophy at Tianjin Nankai University, remain unknown. Wu showed support for her students for expressing anger over the fatal Urumqi apartment fire. The university first tried to compel her to delete the messages she posted on social media. They then attempted to take her to a medical facility on December 13 to be diagnosed with mental health issues. Wu made her situation known by live-posting during the incident, but she soon lost all contact. Her posts on WeChat were removed except for a message posted on December 14 which claims she was overly paranoid and felt better after treatment. There have been no credible updates on her current status. Wu’s profile page remains on the university’s website.

Huang Hao (黄颢) and his wife, who is only identified by her online name “Pang Hu 胖虎”, were both taken on November 28, after participating in a gathering the night before in Chengdu, Sichuan. The couple were reportedly charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb the social order.” Although the families were able to obtain lawyers, visitation rights were reportedly denied and their whereabouts are unknown.

A young man named Cao Yuan (曹原 or 曹源) was reportedly taken from Shanghai by Beijing police on January 6.

Young protesters have also called for help online. Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨), an editor at the Peking University Press, pre-recorded a video after four of her friends were detained. Afraid that she too might disappear without a trace, Cao asked trusted people to post the video in the event of her arrest. Her fear became a reality at the end of 2022. Like many young Chinese who were saddened by the Urumqi fire and angered by the “zero-Covid” policy, Cao and some friends attended a vigil in Beijing at the bank of Liangma River on the evening of November 27. According to Cao’s video, she and five her friends were initially summoned by police on November 30 but released 24 hours later after they were “educated by police but deemed to have not committed crimes.” However, the police began taking her friends into criminal detention after December 18. Cao claims her friends were asked to sign detention notice forms, on which the crime and dates were left blank. The police also refused to disclose the locations of their detention to the families. On December 24, Cao was also placed under criminal detention. The whereabouts of Cao, Li Yuanjing (李元婧), Zhai Dengrui (翟登瑞 or 翟登蕊 ), and Li Siqi (李思琪) are unknown. On January 15, 2023, a YouTube account was created, and a slightly edited version of Cao’s video was uploaded; Yang Liu (杨柳) was reportedly released on bail. The sixth person might have been Lin Qian (林倩), who didn’t attend the vigil but was taken with Li Yuanjing because the two are roommates. Lin was reportedly released on bail for the second time before January 21. She was initially released on December 18 when she tested positive for Covid.

More information emerged concerning another young woman named Li Chaorang (李超然), who help Lin Qian post bail after her first detainment and took her home until Lin was placed in custody for the second time. Friends of Li said she lost contact with them on January 6, 2023, and is likely to have been arrested.

Yang Zijing (杨紫荆), nicknamed “Dim Sum,” is a young woman living in Guangzhou who participated in a gathering on the night of November 27, 2022. The gathering started as a vigil for the Urumqi fire victims. During the gathering, someone in the crowd raised a piece of white paper, a protest symbol of inexpressible sorrow and silent anger. Yang was taken away from her home on December 4 and reportedly placed in Guangzhou Yuexiu District Detention Center for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Yang was reportedly released on bail on January 3, 2023.

Two other young men were also reportedly detained at the Yuexiu District Detention Center in Guangzhou. Wang Xiaoyu (王晓宇) was taken on the same day as Yang and was later reportedly released on bail on January 3, 2023. However, friends of Chen Dali (陈大栗, former name Chen Sizhi 陈思冶) claimed he is still missing since being detained in December. In an online missing person’s post, friends said that Wang was taken from his home by Guangzhou police on December 4 to the Beijing Road police station, where he was first given seven days of administrative detention for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” However, on December 12, the night of when Chen was to be released, he was suddenly transferred to another location. His whereabouts are unknown.

Qin Ziyi (秦梓奕), a Beijing resident and former reporter for Caixin, has been disappeared since Christmas 2022. Qin is an alumna of the University of Chicago, where she received a master’s degree in social sciences in 2017, according to a statement released by the university’s Center for East Asian Studies. Reports have emerged she likely was also released on bail before January 21.

Crackdowns on the protestors – including identification, surveillance, intimidation, and detention – continue across China. Reporters from NPR and DW have claimed to confirm detentions of eight and six people over the past month, respectively. The DW reporter has said that all six people she interviewed are in Beijing and are members of the same Telegram group.

Sedition cases in Hong Kong

The United Nations has expressed concerns about the Hong Kong government’s use of colonial-era sedition charges to suppress criticism or dissent. Despite not being covered by the Beijing-imposed national security law, the conditions for obtaining bail are difficult in sedition cases. Individuals convicted under this law face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

Three notable sedition cases occurred during the reporting period. On October 15, 2022,. a mainland Chinese man surnamed Shi was found to have put up three “seditious” posters on a noticeboard at the Legislative Council’s public protest zone. His act of defiance took place two days after a Beijing protester dubbed “bridge man” hung two banners off an overpass against China’s stringent COVID restrictions. Shi wrote in support of the “bridge man” and urged the Chinese dictator to step down. Shi was detained on October 24. He was released on bail as of the time of reporting.

On November 7, the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement concerning the detention of a Portuguese citizen in Hong Kong. The statement came after Hong Kong police arrested Wong Kinchung (黄煡聪) on November 1 for “seditious” posts on his social media accounts. Wong is from Hong Kong and holds Portuguese citizenship. He allegedly posted offensive statements and pictures on the website of the Hong Kong Independence Party. News media sources reported that Wong taught at the Royal College of Music in the United Kingdom and returned to Hong Kong to take care of his mother who is suffering from dementia. Wong’s bail application has been rejected, and he remains in custody.

On November 21, Wong Chun-kit (王俊杰) was arrested for sharing a video in which he thanks South Korea for erroneously playing the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” instead of China’s national anthem at an international rugby game earlier in the same month. Additionally, Wong was accused of publishing and making available 113 seditious messages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter since January 31, 2021. On January 5, 2023, Wong received a prison sentence of eight months.