China formally arrests nine over Covid-19 protests, rights group says

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BEIJING – China formally arrested nine people in connection with a wave of Covid-19 protests that swept the country in November, a human rights group said, even as Beijing unwinds the virus curbs that prompted the demonstrations.

Municipal prosecutors in Beijing have approved the arrests of nine people suspected of participating in demonstrations in the capital, according to Weiquanwang, a website that tracks human rights cases in China.

They’re accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, the site said last Friday, without disclosing where it got the information.

The catch-all charge, often used against dissidents in China, carries a possible sentence of as long as five years in prison. The arrested people named by Weiquanwang include Ms Cao Zhixin, a book editor in her mid-20s, who questioned the detentions of her friends in a video widely circulated on the internet earlier this month. 

Neither the Ministry of Public Security nor the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau immediately responded to requests for comment Wednesday, a public holiday in China. Weiquanwang also didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

The arrests are the latest sign that China is quietly pursuing people associated with the demonstrations now that international attention has faded.

The historic street gatherings and vigils began at the end of November, with some participants calling for freedom of speech or even for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.

The government took steps in the immediate aftermath of the demonstrations to roll back most of the measures to enforce Mr Xi’s signature policy of isolating and quashing Covid-19 outbreaks.

Still, Chinese authorities have said little about the protests, although Mr Xi

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