A woman from Hubei’s Xiaogan City, one of the regions hardest hit by COVID-19, has been arrested by local police after she organized protests against management failures of her residential community during the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Beijing News (in Chinese), the Xiaogan Municipal People’s Procuratorate issued the arrest warrant on April 17, roughly a week after the 45-year-old woman, whose surname is Zeng, was placed in criminal detention on charges of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and “picking quarrels and making trouble,” a vaguely defined crime often used by Chinese law enforcers to punish political dissenters and human rights activists.
Zeng’s main offenses were two protests organized by her on March 12 and March 25, when nearly 100 residents in her residential compound congregated to voice their displeasure with the management office, which they accused of providing overpriced groceries and doing an incompetent job in serving the well-being of the residents when they were confined to their homes under a government-enforced lockdown. Some videos (in Chinese) of the protests showed participants in large numbers chanting against the management committee and calling for changes in leadership.
While Zeng said that she took the lead on the protests for the sake of her neighbors, local police ruled that Zeng was acting out of self-interest, since she desired to gain a position on the committee. The Beijing News also noted that Zeng had been assembling crowds for unlawful reasons since 2016 for the purpose of delaying payments on her property management fees.
In an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, China implemented strict lockdowns on millions of people in several cities in Hubei Province, including Wuhan and Xiaogan. Barred from leaving their neighborhoods, people from these areas had to rely on their complexes’ management offices to get groceries. The practice has caused a fair amount of controversy when residents discovered that food prices in their neighborhoods were unusually high or necessities were delivered in unsanitary conditions. In March, two government officials in Wuhan were fired after online pictures revealed that some quarantined residents received groceries delivered by filthy garbage trucks.
On Chinese social media, Zeng’s arrest has sparked a great deal of public outcry from those criticizing law enforcement for suppressing the voice of Zeng instead of addressing the concerns and complaints she raised about how the government handled the outbreak. “So why was the management committee hiking prices for groceries? Why are you evading the key question?” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).