In China’s Henan province, bank protesters were attacked by mobs in civilian clothes

In China's Henan province, bank protesters were attacked by mobs in civilian clothes
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Hundreds of rural bank customers in central China’s Henan province were mobbed, beaten and dragged by a group of unidentified men on Sunday as they protested local government corruption amid a month-long freeze on their deposits.

Since mid-April, depositors have been pressing Henan authorities to help restore deposits from at least four small “rural” banks that have stopped withdrawing money. The campaign gained national attention last month after a demonstration in Henan, Zhengzhou province, was prevented by digital health codes that were planned to turn red. After a nationwide outcry over abuse of the coronavirus response system, the central government stepped in by punishing five local officials.

Over the weekend, depositors tried again, this time with valid “green” codes. Early Sunday morning, according to videos of the incident shared on Chinese social media, hundreds of protesters marched on the steps of a local branch of the People’s Bank of China with placards alleging corruption, including in English, “No deposit. There are no human rights.”

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“The Chinese dreams of 400,000 depositors in Henan have been dashed,” said another banner, a reference to President Xi Jinping’s slogan promising a better life for those who work hard and remain loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Many waved Chinese national flags.

They also accused the government of working with a “mafia” for the violent protests. It is unclear exactly why the banks froze the funds, but police are investigating Henan New Fortune Group, a shareholder in four banks, on suspicion of illegal fundraising, according to local media.

It is common practice in China for police to attend sensitive events without uniform, often wearing pre-made badges instead. During past trials for Chinese human rights lawyers, foreign journalists and diplomats gathered outside the courthouse were sometimes shoved by unidentified men wearing the same yellow smiley badges.

The unusually brave displays were met by dozens of uniformed police officers, as well as a team of burly men, mostly in white T-shirts, who all gathered together. Videos of the incident, which were widely shared on Chinese social media before the censors went into effect, showed blue-shirted officers standing by as burly men in white shirts began attacking the crowd. The protesters were dragged down the stairs before being led away. Some were loaded onto buses, often with bodily injuries in collisions.

“I am in shock from yesterday to today,” said one protester in an interview, fearing the official repercussions of talking to foreign media, and asked to remain anonymous. He repeatedly described the men as “unknown” but added: “I never thought that officers could use such violent beatings against unarmed and defenseless ordinary people.”

“If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I really wouldn’t have believed it. In the past, when foreign media reported similar events, I always thought it was slander.”

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In response to the videos from the scene, Tsinghua University law professor Lao Dongyan called on Weibo to prosecute those behind the tattoos.

Lao added that the “immune system” of the media and the law should have prevented such brutal scenes from trying to recover depositors’ deposits. “This is a concrete manifestation of a problem with the immune system: All the normal ways to seek help are blocked. “The scary thing is that this could just be the beginning,” he said.

Despite extensive efforts by the stability-prone Chinese Communist Party to prevent public unrest, lost savings are a relatively common cause of protests in China. In recent years, a crackdown on laxly regulated financial products and peer-to-peer lending has repeatedly drawn investors to the capital to pressure authorities to cover losses.

China’s rural banks are currently at the center of a government campaign to curb debt. According to the People’s Bank of China, these institutions will account for about 29 percent of all high-risk financial institutions in the country by mid-2021.

Faced with increased competition from larger institutions, many smaller banks have tried in recent years to attract higher interest rates and also to sign up customers from across the country for online services. Rules for banks have not been set for internet finance, said He Ping, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Finance. awning Sanlian Lifeweek magazine.

The Henan Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission said Sunday that it will speed up the verification process for customers of the four rural banks under investigation and will soon announce a resolution to the problem.

However, depositors continue to seek ways to pressure the Henan government to ignore the case, including by posting comments on the official Weibo account of the US Embassy in China. “Tell me about Zhengzhou quickly. Save us,” one user wrote on Sunday.

Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.

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