China tightened security in large cities including Shanghai and Beijing after residents took to the streets and university campuses over the weekend to protest the country's zero-COVID strategy, with many calling for an expansion of freedoms and political reform.
The protests are rare instances of defiance since the pandemic — a sign that residents are growing increasingly impatient with the country's strict COVID-19 policies.
Videos on social media showed protesters in the city of Shanghai in a face-off with the police, some singing the national anthem and emphasizing a part in the song that calls for people to "起來," which translates to "stand up."
Some chanted slogans including "I want to go to the movies!" and "No to Covid tests; yes to freedom," while others called for the Communist Party to disband and for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down. A handful of people in Shanghai yelled "Free Xinjiang!"
In a statement, the BBC said that one of its journalists, Edward Lawrence, was "beaten and kicked" by the police before being arrested. He has since been released.
“It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties," said the broadcaster in a statement.
"We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd. We do not consider this a credible explanation.”
Among protesters, police waited to make arrests — eventually clamping down on some of the most vocal demonstrators.
On Monday, police patrolled areas in Shanghai and Beijing where demonstrations took place, though no new protests were reported, according to Reuters.
The nationwide demonstrations were triggered by a fire in the western city of Urumqi in Xinjiang, which reportedly killed 10 people. Rescue efforts were apparently hindered by lockdown measures.
Despite widespread scrutiny, China has remained committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19 through isolating communities and imposing small and large-scale lockdowns. The country most recently recorded a daily case count of over 40,000 infections — the highest single-day number China has ever seen.
But in recent months, reports of people suffering and even dying as a result of strict isolation measures have emerged — with some stories breaking through the country's "great firewall" and inciting anger and debate on social media.