(CNN) – Police in southern China paraded four suspects through the streets for allegedly smuggling people across sealed borders in violation of pandemic control measures – a controversial act of public disgrace that sparked a backlash on Chinese social media.
On Tuesday, four people wearing hazmat suits, masks and goggles marched through Jingxi City, Guangxi Province – each carrying signs showing their names and photos on their chest and back, according to videos shared on social media and reposted by state media.
Each suspect was held by two officers – also wearing hazmat suits and face shields. They were surrounded by another circle of police, some holding machine guns and in riot gear, watched by a large crowd.
The four were believed to have helped others illegally cross China’s borders, which were largely sealed off during the pandemic as part of the country’s “zero Covid policy”, according to the Guangxi Daily, a state newspaper.
The sanction was intended to deter border-related crimes and to encourage the public to comply with epidemic prevention and control measures, the Guangxi Daily reported.
Authorities in Jingxi officially arrested two suspects on Tuesday accused of transporting two Vietnamese immigrants to China in October. One of the immigrants tested positive for coronavirus, causing schools to close, nearly 50,000 residents in home isolation and more than 10,000 tests to be performed, according to a report on the government website Jingxi. It is not known if the two suspects were among the four people who marched on Tuesday.
Echoes of the Cultural Revolution
Border towns face tremendous pressure to prevent the coronavirus from entering under China’s strict zero Covid policy, with local officials periodically fired or punished for failing to contain outbreaks that escape strict measures .
Jingxi, a city of about 670,000 people, shares a 152 kilometer (94 mile) border with Vietnam. In neighboring Yunnan province, the town of Ruili was repeatedly closed for months earlier this year due to imported cases of Covid, sparking an outcry from local residents.
Since Tuesday, videos of public humiliation in Jingxi have drawn widespread attention on Chinese social media, drawing widespread criticism.
For many, the parade and the placards are reminiscent of the dark period of the Cultural Revolution. Five decades ago, the public shame exercises were the hallmark of the persecutions unleashed by Mao Zedong’s staunch Red Guards, becoming a symbol of the anarchy and chaos of this decade of social unrest.
In 1988, the Chinese government banned shameful parades for all suspected and convicted criminals, including those on death row. But similar incidents have occurred repeatedly over the years, drawing criticism from state media – and other opinions reiterating the government’s ban.
In 2010, a government adviser hailed the new ban on shameful parades of sex workers as a sign of the country’s “growing respect for human rights and dignity,” state news agency Xinhua reported.
This time, the state media also weighed in. The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, quoted a law professor as saying that the public shame in Jingxi “violates Chinese law” and “insults the dignity of citizens.”
The Beijing News, another state-run outlet, said the measure “seriously violates the spirit of the rule of law” and should not be allowed to happen even under enormous pressure to prevent it from happening. epidemic.
Meanwhile, Jingxi police and local government defended the exercise, claiming that it was an “on-site disciplinary warning activity” and that there was no “impropriety,” according to the Zhengzhou Daily.
This is not the first time that authorities in Jingxi have paraded suspects.
In November, three people accused of human trafficking were detained on stage while an official read their sentences to hundreds of people, including elementary school students, according to a report on the Jingxi government website.
(Copyright (c) 2021 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)