Two Chinese women who participated in the historic “white paper” demonstrations in Beijing, demanding an end to COVID-19 restrictions, were released on Wednesday after nearly four months in detention, according to two friends of the individuals.
Following the protests, in which hundreds of people displayed blank sheets of paper as a symbol of their discontent, police detained and interrogated dozens of participants, as reported by rights groups, lawyers, and friends of the individuals involved. Many were held for less than 24 hours or released after a few weeks. Cao Zhixin, a 26-year-old book editor, and Zhai Dengrui, a 27-year-old teacher, were allegedly released on Wednesday morning.
The Ministry of Public Security has not commented on the detentions and did not immediately respond to news outlets requests for comment. Human Rights Watch stated that the two women were among four protesters detained in December and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a crime that carries a sentence of up to five years.
Prior to her detention, Cao recorded a video of herself asking for help, which was later released by her friends and widely circulated online. While some protesters remained silent due to the threat of official retribution, others have spoken out against China’s crackdown on the mostly peaceful demonstrations.
The protests, which began in late November across various Chinese cities, were unprecedented during President Xi Jinping’s decade in power. Though police suppressed the demonstrations within days, sources have previously told multiple news outlets that they played a role in accelerating the end of three years of stringent COVID restrictions.