Chinese authorities are using cell phone data to trace protesters who participated in protests against the Chinese government’s “zero tolerance” policy against Covid. Given the growth of infections throughout the country, Beijing is applying strict restrictive and repressive measures to activities. But the population, plunged back into the nightmare of a year ago, doesn’t like it and has continued to take to the streets for weeks to protest against the lockdowns.
Hundreds of protesters gathered along Beijing’s Liangma River on Sunday evening, demanding an end to relentless Covid testing and restrictions. Some also denounced government censorship and called for more political freedoms. Dissent in the heart of the Chinese capital largely ended peacefully in the early hours of Monday, but some protesters have since been receiving calls from police inquiring about their participation in the protests.
Thus Covid shocks China
A protester said he received a phone call on Wednesday from a police officer and was traced by authorities because his cell phone signal was recorded near the protest site. According to the recording of the telephone conversation – listened to by CNN – the protester was asked if he had gone to the Liangma River on Sunday evening. When he denied being there, the policeman asked, “Then why was your cell phone there?”
The protester was also told to report to a police station for questioning and to sign a report. When he asked the officer why he had to do it, he was told that it was “an order from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.”
Some protesters have already taken precautions not to be traced or identified by the police. One of them said that he kept his phone on airplane mode throughout his participation in a demonstration. But despite this Thursday afternoon she was contacted by the police.
In Shanghai, where some of the loudest protests took place, with crowds calling for Xi’s resignation for two consecutive nights, police searched people’s cell phones for virtual private networks (VPNs) that can be used to bypassing the Chinese Internet firewall or apps such as Twitter and Telegram, which, although banned in the country, have been used by protesters.
One protester who was arrested over the weekend said he was ordered by the police to hand over his phone as ‘evidence’ when he was arrested. Another said officers returned his phone to him upon release but deleted photos of him and removed social media app WeChat.