Chinese bank depositors face police in angry protest

A large crowd of angry Chinese bank depositors faced off with police Sunday, some roughed up as they were taken away, in a case that has drawn attention because of earlier attempts to use a COVID-19 tracking app to prevent them from mobilizing.

Hundreds of people held up banners and chanted slogans on the wide steps of the entrance to a branch of China’s central bank in the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province, about 620 kilometers (380 miles) southwest of Beijing. Video taken by a protester shows plainclothes security teams being pelted with water bottles and other objects as they charge the crowd.

Later videos posted on social media show individual protesters being shoved forward and down stairs by security teams dressed in plain white or black T-shirts. It’s unclear how many were subjected to this treatment. Phone calls to Zhengzhou city and Henan province police rang unanswered Sunday.

The protesters are among thousands of customers who opened accounts at six rural banks in Henan and neighboring Anhui province that offered higher interest rates. They later found they could not withdraw their funds after media reports that the head of the banks’ parent company was on the run and wanted for financial crimes.

“We came today and wanted to get our savings back, because I have elderly people and children at home, and the inability to withdraw savings has seriously affected my life,” said a woman from Shandong province, who only gave her last name, Zhang, out of fear of retribution.

What had been a local scandal became a national incident last month because of the misuse of the COVID tracking app. Many who set out for Zhengzhou to demand action from regulators found that their health status on the app had turned red, preventing them from traveling. Some reported being questioned by police after checking into their hotel about why they had come to the city. Five Zhengzhou officials were later punished.

The protesters assembled before dawn on Sunday in front of the People’s Bank of China building in Zhengzhou. Police vehicles with flashing lights can be seen in videos taken in the early morning darkness. Police closed off the street and by 8 a.m. had started massing on the other side, protesters told The Associated Press.

Besides uniformed police, there were the teams of men in plain T-shirts. One banking regulator and one local government official arrived, but the protesters refused to talk to them. Zhang and one other protester told the AP they had met the officials before and don’t believe what they say.

The police then announced to the protesters with a megaphone that they were an illegal assembly and would be detained and fined. About 10 a.m., the men in T-shirts rushed the crowd and dispersed them. Zhang said she saw women dragged down the stairs of the bank entrance.

Zhang said that when she was hit, she asked the officer, “Why did you hit me?” According to her, he responded: “What’s wrong with beating you?”

The protesters were bussed to various sties where Zhang said they were forced to sign a letter guaranteeing they would not gather anymore.

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