Canada stands with people “expressing themselves” in a rare wave of protests across multiple cities in China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
He made the comment on his way into a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning, as China grapples with its biggest public display of dissent since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests — which ended in a massacre when the army violently crushed the student-led pro-democracy movement.
The latest protests are a response to Beijing’s continued use of a “zero-COVID” strategy amid the COVID-19 pandemic — a strict policy that aims to isolate every infected person to limit the spread of the virus. As a result, millions of Chinese citizens have continued to face broad quarantine orders, mandatory testing and severe restrictions, all of which are the target of growing protests across the country.
As protests continue across China, Trudeau said Canadians “are watching very closely.”
“Obviously, everyone in China should be allowed to express themselves, should be allowed to share their perspectives and indeed, protest,” he said on Tuesday.
“We’re going to continue to ensure that China knows we’ll stand up for human rights, we’ll stand with people who are expressing themselves.”
The protests have erupted in at least eight major cities in China as well as on several school campuses. The match that lit the fuse was a fire in a residential high-rise building in the city of Urumqi last Thursday.
The blaze killed 10 people — and as videos of the incident tore through social media, accusations grew that lockdowns played a role in the fatal fire.
Many of Urumqi’s four million residents have been under some of China’s longest lockdowns, barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. Chinese officials have denied COVID-19 measures hampered escape and rescue efforts.
During Xinjiang’s lockdown, some residents elsewhere in the city have had their doors chained physically shut, including one who spoke to The Associated Press who declined to be named for fear of retribution.
As protests rage on across the country, some demonstrators have begun to call for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s resignation.
The pressure from the protests led authorities in China’s western Xinjiang region to open up some neighbourhoods in the capital of Urumqi on Saturday, after residents held extraordinary late-night demonstrations against the “zero-COVID” lockdown in the city that has lasted more than three months.
International media covering the protests on the ground have also faced serious pushback — and even aggression — from local authorities.
According to BBC, one of its journalists was arrested and beaten as he covered the demonstrations.
“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” the British public service broadcaster said in a statement late on Sunday.
“He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.”
Beijing is denying the allegation, with a foreign ministry spokesperson stating it is “not true.”
A Reuters journalist was also detained for about 90 minutes on Sunday night, before being released.
Trudeau condemned China’s handling of the journalists covering these protests.
“We also need to make sure that China and places around the world are respecting journalists and their ability to do their job,” Trudeau said.
“We’ll continue to make that very clear.”
— with files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea, The Associated Press and Reuters