An online call for anti-government protests across China yesterday instead brought an emphatic show of force by police determined to deter any buds of the kind of unrest that has shaken the Middle East.
Lines of police checked passersby and warned away foreign photo journalists in downtown Beijing and Shanghai after a U.S.-based Chinese website spread calls for Chinese people to emulate the “Jasmine Revolution” sweeping the Middle East and stage gatherings in support of democratic change.
Officials from China’s ruling Communist Party have dismissed the idea that they could be hit by protests like those that have rippled across the Middle East.
But a rash of detentions and censorship of online discussion of the Middle East have shown that Beijing is deeply nervous about any signs of opposition to its one-party rule.
What started as a call for protest has instead become an opportunity for the Chinese government to brandish the big and sophisticated security forces funded by rapid economic growth.
In Shanghai, police bundled away at least seven men. Reuters TV filmed several policemen forcing a man into a Public Security Bureau van, while other police held up an umbrella to block the view.
On the ground in China
In the Wangfujing shopping district downtown, construction barriers have been in place since Friday in a street on which activists had planned to demonstrate. Yesterday, Wangfujing morphed into something that looked more like a massive police station.
As I was trying to photograph myself, three policemen rushed toward me and asked for my credentials before sending me to the police station.
I was detained for an hour and met seven other foreign correspondents also in custody. After filling out documents, we were asked not to interview, photograph, film or report anything that happens in Wangfujing without their written permission.
When I left the police station and approached Wangfujing again, I was escorted by two policemen. They were filming me all the way, until I finally decided to leave. –Jordan Pouille