Chinese authorities have staged a concerted show of force to quash a mysterious online call for a “Jasmine Revolution” apparently modelled after pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East.
Authorities detained activists, increased the number of police on the streets and censored online calls to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other major cities.
Citizens were urged to shout “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness” – a slogan that highlights common complaints among ordinary Chinese.
Many activists said they didn’t know who was behind the campaign and weren’t sure what to make of the call to protest, which was first posted on US-based, Chinese-language advocacy website Boxun.com.
China’s authoritarian government has appeared unnerved by recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya. It has limited media reports about them, stressing the instability caused by protests in Egypt, and restricted internet searches to keep people uninformed.
Saturday’s call to protest in China did not seem to garner much traction among citizens. There were no reports of protests in cities where people were urged to gather, such as Guangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan and Chengdu.
Ahead of the planned protests, more than 100 activists in cities across China were taken away by police, confined to their homes or were missing, the Hong Kong-based group Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said. Families and friends reported the detention or harassment of several dissidents, and some activists said they were warned not to participate.
On Sunday, searches for “jasmine” were blocked on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog, and status updates with the word on popular Chinese social networking site Renren.com were met with an error message and a warning to refrain from postings with “political, sensitive … or other inappropriate content.”
Mass text messaging service was unavailable in Beijing due to “technical issues,” according to a customer service operator for leading provider China Mobile. In the past, Chinese authorities have suspended text messaging in politically tense areas to prevent organising.
The call for a Jasmine Revolution came as President Hu Jintao gave a speech to top leaders Saturday, asking them to “solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society.” Hu told the senior politicians and officials to provide better social services to people and improve management of information on the Internet “to guide public opinion,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.