Disappeared Protester: China Forcing Dissidents to Sign ‘Blank Arrest Warrants’ with No Crime

FILE - Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in
AP Photo, File

The Chinese Communist Party is disappearing people who participated in protests and vigils in November for the victims of Beijing’s deadly coronavirus lockdown policy, a woman multiple outlets have identified as Chinese publishing editor Cao Zhixin denounced in a video surfacing on Monday.

The video began circulating with an English-language translation and was reportedly published online by unidentified friends of Cao’s after the 26-year-old disappeared. According to the U.K. Guardian, Cao’s message could not be found on regime-controlled Chinese outlets such as WeChat and Weibo, but spread widely throughout the free world on Twitter and other Western social media platforms.

Prior reports on mass arrests of protesters had identified a Beijing publishing house editor as among those who had disappeared into China’s repressive “legal” system, but the video appeared to be the first confirmation of her identity and disappearance. Dozens of people have disappeared since protests attracting estimated thousands nationwide erupted throughout China in late November. While protests – particularly against deadly lockdowns and the imprisonment of thousands of people in dirty quarantine camps, allegedly to protect them from Chinese coronavirus – became a regular occurrence throughout China in 2022, they remained mostly isolated manifestations of dissent by singular people or small groups before the last weekend of November.

That weekend, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, and other major cities saw masses of people take the streets peacefully to demand an end to lockdowns. Many organized vigils for the victims of a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the occupied Uyghur region of East Turkistan, where between ten and 40 people died in a locked-down building. Lockdown barricades and anti-pandemic protocol prevented firefighters from reaching the building in time to quell the fire and save lives.

The Chinese government responded to the protests by announcing an alleged end to “large-scale” lockdowns and not imprisoning asymptomatic people who test positive for coronavirus in quarantine camps. It also responded with a massive wave of arrests, disappearances, and at least one case of forcibly interning a dissident in a psychiatric facility.

In her video, Cao says that she was recording a message in the event of her disappearance and, if the video is public, that meant that she was already missing, presumed in police custody.

“Hello everyone, I am Zhixin. I have asked my friends to post this video in case of my disappearance. If you are seeing this video, that means I have already been taken away by the police like my other friends,” Cao said, adding that at the time of her recording, four of her friends had disappeared.

Cao explained that her friends had joined a vigil for the Urumqi fire victims in Beijing, where she said thousands of people were also present, none of which engaged in any hostilities with police or disruptive behavior. The vigil reportedly occurred on November 27.

“On the early morning of the 29th, the police summoned us. We were kept at the police station for about 24 hours and received warnings. The police found us innocent and released us,” Cao said. “But just when we thought it was about to end, on December 18, the police started to make criminal arrests and quietly took a few of our friends away.”

“They were forced to sign a blank arrest warrant with no location of their detention or their charges,” Cao said. Leaving the warrants blank and forcing the protesters to sign them, agreeing to charges that do not exist, allows police to find an accusation to impose on them after taking them away into custody, without having to respect due process.

“Our mothers are looking for us amidst the chaos of this pandemic. They wanted to know why we were taken and where we were being held,” she asserted. “I am 26 years old. I have graduated and worked as an editor at a publisher for about a year and a half. My friends are of similar age. We all have our similar jobs, and we care about society.”

“What we did was to express our feelings in a reasonable way. We were sympathetic to those who lost their lives, so we went there. It was a mourning event attended by thousands of people,” she continued. “We observed order. If attending a mourning event is the reason to arrest us, how much room is there left for sharing our feelings?”

“We don’t want to disappear for no reason,” she concluded.

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), citing a Chinese human rights watchdog named Weiquanwang, reported this week that police have “targeted” at least 32 people in response to the protests in the past two months. Cao is among those identified as missing in police custody.

“One of the protesters, Yang Liu, is a journalist working for state-controlled media outlet Beijing News. Others who are also believed to be in criminal detention include Cao Zhixin, an editor at a publishing house, a bar owner, an artist and another journalist for the Chinese media outlet Caixin,” DW reported.

An anonymous source told DW that Cao and her five friends were in a Telegram group together, potentially creating concerns that they were conspiring to act in defiance of the government.

“The first few protesters arrested by police didn’t have time to remove the records of communication on their phones, so when police summoned more people afterward, they already had the records they need,” the source, identified as “Alice,” explained.

Cao’s accusation of being forced to sign blank arrest warrants follows a similar report by the left-wing outlet NPR last week, that stated that others arrested encountered the same phenomenon. Others did stand accused of “crimes,” but vague infractions such as “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.”

The Communist Party appears to be particularly targeting white-collar women, following a purge in 2021 of feminist and pro-women content online. In December, a philosopher professor at Tianjin’s Nankai University, Wu Yanan, disappeared after posting messages supporting the protests on Chinese regime-control social media platforms. Wu particularly urged university administrators to protect student protesters.

Wu resurfaced in bizarre messages on WeChat, a regime-controlled application, in which she claimed she had endured a mental health problem but was “basically better.” According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), Wu was abducted into a van and shipped to a psychiatric facility. Her posts before declaring herself “better” accused the government of trapping her in such a facility and “said she was about to be tied up and forcibly injected by a bunch of people, then she hid in the toilet [before they took her phone],” a source told RFA.

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