China: May 13, 2005

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Police records have been leaked, showing a large and rapid increase in the number of public demonstrations against the government. There were only 8,700 such incidents in 1993, but the number increased to 32,000 in 1999, 50,000 in 2002 and some 60,000 last year. Most of the unrest has to do with unemployment and corruption among government officials. Chinese law does not allow citizens to freely assemble and demonstrate for anything. While the police will often tolerate irate people making a racket about no jobs or high taxes, they will crack down, and make arrests, if there is property damage or injuries, or the local police commander feels like it.

Not only have the outburst been growing in number, but also in size. In the late 1990s, the average demonstration had ten or fewer people. By 2003, the average demonstration contained 53 people. Groups numbering in the hundreds and thousands are becoming more common (more than ten percent now involve over a hundred people.) Demonstrators have also developed tactics (which are shared via the Internet) that make it more difficult for the police to use violence or arrests to break up the protest. For example, the front ranks of the demonstrators often contain women, children and, most importantly, retired soldiers and local elders. Foreign journalists are particularly favored as protection from police violence. Worst of all, the police know that if they play rough, their actions, often accompanied by digital pictures, will quickly appear on the Internet. As a result, the police have their own new tactics, which involve minimal use of violence, and any actions that might inflame the mob, and make it grow. The police photograph and videotape the crowds, trying to identify the leaders for later arrest. Local officials are also under increasing pressure to address the causes of the demonstrations, and do whatever is necessary to make them not happen. This involves bribing, threatening, arresting or killing local organizers of the demonstrations. So far, however, the demonstrators are winning, and growing.

 

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