Rights group says several Chinese ‘white paper’ protestors still in detention

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At the end of November, protests broke out in several cities across China calling for an end to the country’s nearly three years of strict enforcement of the zero-COVID policy. Many demonstrators held blank sheets of white paper, which became a symbol of their discontent.

Some protesters also shouted slogans calling for the dismissal of President Xi Jinping or the ruling Communist Party.

The protests, unprecedented in Xi’s decade in power, which saw increasingly strong repression against dissent, ended within days amid a strong police presence. Many individuals were arrested and subsequently released, protesters, lawyers and academics told Reuters at the time, adding that they were concerned that some could face consequences later.

Human Rights Watch researchers cited four protesters in Beijing – editor Cao Zhixin, accountant Li Yuanjing, teacher Zhai Dengrui, and journalist Li Siqi – as having been formally arrested for “picking up fights and provoked trouble”, which can carry a sentence of up to five. years.

In Shanghai, the whereabouts of two protesters who demonstrated on Wulumuqi Street, Li Yi and Chen Jialin, are unknown, Human Rights Watch said.

The group asked the authorities to release all individuals immediately.

Reuters could not independently verify the status of the individuals named in the report.

Calls by Reuters to China’s Ministry of Public Security for comment were not returned.

Human Rights Watch said that “a few” protesters were released on bail.

“More protesters are believed to have been arrested or forcibly disappeared, although their cases are not publicly known, due to the Chinese authorities’ practice of threatening detainees’ families to keep silent,” she said.

In early December, shortly after the protests, China suddenly dropped most of its zero-COVID curbs, and the coronavirus spread rapidly across the country.

(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Tony Munroe and Christian Schmollinger)

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