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China social media users beg for accounts back after protest ban

Dozens of Chinese Internet users have posted desperate pleas for access to their WeChat app accounts after hundreds were banned for posts about a rare street protest in Beijing against President Xi Jinping.

The app is critical to daily life in China, allowing hundreds of millions of people to communicate, make payments, take part in Covid-19 contact tracing and access entertainment, but it is also heavily monitored by the state.

Hundreds of WeChat users have had their accounts blocked, some permanently, after making reference to a small demonstration in the capital on Oct 13 that called for Mr Xi’s ouster.

It comes at a sensitive time as the ruling Communist Party of China meets for a five-yearly Congress to anoint Mr Xi to a historic third term in power.

“I have really seriously reflected on my mistake, and I promise… I will definitely strictly abide by the guidelines,” wrote one Beijing resident on Friday in a post on another Chinese social network that has since been deleted.

“I sincerely hope your company can unblock my account. In future, I will never post an inappropriate video or image again.”

“I’ve used this account for 10 years and there are many precious photos and messages from friends on it.”

One WeChat user based in the southern city of Guangzhou told AFP her account had some functions temporarily restricted for 24 hours on Sunday after sharing photos in a chat group of posters expressing support for the Beijing protest.

“I can feel the isolation of not being able to like/respond/reply to group chat messages… and I feel even more sympathy for users who have been permanently banned,” she said.

Beijing is on high alert for any disruption to the week-long Communist Party meeting which began on Sunday, with the city under a blanket of tight security.

Video and photos shared on social media on Thursday showed a lone protester draping two hand-painted banners off a bridge with slogans criticising government policies on Covid-19 and calling for the right to vote.

“No Covid tests, I want to make a living. No Cultural Revolution, I want reforms. No lockdowns, I want freedom. No leaders, I want to vote. No lies, I want dignity. I won’t be a slave, I’ll be a citizen,” one banner read.

“Go on strike, remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping,” read another.

Police and security guards quickly swarmed the bridge and volunteers were deployed to guard other pedestrian bridges across Beijing after the protest, while searches online for the incident were heavily censored. AFP

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