Protests against stringent COVID restrictions have intensified across China – as a British journalist was beaten and kicked by police.
Demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night, despite being forcibly removed by officers using pepper spray only a few hours earlier.
It marked the third night of chaos which has spread to some of the country’s biggest cities, including Wuhan, the first epicentre of the coronavirus almost three years ago.
On Sunday night, the BBC said one of its staff members, Ed Lawrence, was working as an “accredited journalist” when he was “beaten and kicked by police” while covering the protests.
Footage on social media showed him being dragged to the ground in cuffs, while in another video, he was seen saying: “Call the consulate now.”
According to officials, Mr Lawrence was arrested “for his own good” in case he caught COVID from the crowd, but the BBC said it was “extremely concerned” about his treatment and added: “We do not consider this a credible explanation.”
A Sky News team in Shanghai had witnessed police moving quickly and decisively, pushing protesters to try to disperse them – but the crowd did not leave.
They also saw several people on the streets of Shanghai being arrested by police on Monday morning.
A woman from a group called China Deviants told Sky News they had decided to voice their anger against President Xi’s regime because “people in China are being oppressed”.
She added: “We have been oppressed for years, for decades, and we want to change that. We need to stand up against this authoritarian regime.”
She said, like many of her fellow countrymen and women in China, their anger had boiled over after a fire in the city of Urumqi on Thursday, which killed at least 10 people.
The city has been under harsh lockdowns for more than three months to combat the spread of the coronavirus under China’s “zero-COVID” policy.
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Videos on social media had showed an arc of water from a distant fire truck falling short of the blaze, sparking waves of angry comments online. Some said fire engines had been blocked by pandemic control barriers or by cars stranded after their owners were put in quarantine, but this has not been verified.
The woman, who covered her face for fear of punishment, said: “It sparked rage. We stand up to raise voices for those people. We stand for justice.
“We want to speak, and we want people to hear it.”
China Deviants is a non-profit group and is calling for others to join them to “reject dictatorship”.
A statement from the group said: “We are committed to awakening the Chinese people against the dictator, letting the Chinese people and the international community realise that: a non-elected government cannot represent the voice of the Chinese people.
“We need democracy and freedom, and we reject dictatorship.”
As protesters returned to Shanghai, Amnesty International described their move as one of “remarkable bravery”.
China is adhering to its tough zero-COVID policy even while much of the world tries to coexist with the coronavirus.
The country recorded a fifth straight daily record of 40,347 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday.