Police Quell Beijing Protest after Woman’s Death

A large protest broke out near a shopping mall in southern on Wednesday following the death last week of a 22-year-old migrant worker, according to Edward Wong of The New York Times, who reported that hundreds of police in riot gear arrived to contain the demonstration:

Word of the death spread on the Internet in the days after the woman, whose surname was Yuan, was initially said to have committed by jumping from a top floor or roof of the mall, called Jingwen, last Friday. Rumors on the Internet said Ms. Yuan, a migrant worker from Province, had been raped by private security guards in the mall, where she worked, and might have been thrown to her death.

A witness told The Wall Street Journal that the protest had swelled by 10 a.m. and had ended by 5 p.m., though a heavy police presence lingered on the scene. CDT’s “Sensitive Words” project also noted that photos of riot police and police helicopters had spread on Weibo, while footage of the demonstration had emerged on Tencent.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Kaiman had more on the protests:

A shopkeeper who gave his name only as Mr Li said that some police had arrived at around 10am, followed by around 200 people who paraded down the street shouting “Protest! Protest!”

The rapidly growing number of officers then closed the road for the rest of the day, he said. Photographs of the scene posted online showed hundreds of people on the street, although it was not clear how many were protesters and how many were onlookers.

One bystander said that officers had clashed with protesters, beating them and dragging them into vans.

While police said a preliminary investigation and autopsy did not indicate foul play, and that the woman did not have any interaction with other people during the hours before she fell to her death, the state-run Global Times reported that the demonstrators demanded a more open investigation:

Rumors have been circulated online that Yuan was gang raped in a enclosed room inside the building by seven security guards, which led to her suicide, or that they even pushed her out. Yuan’s mother visited the Dahongmen Police Station supervising the market but was not allowed to see the surveillance footage, some Web users said.

Leslie Hook of the Financial Times wrote that the protest, which halted traffic in southern Beijing for hours, “highlights mounting social pressures facing China’s leaders:”

The area where Ms Yuan worked is poor and is mostly populated by “outsiders” such as herself who work in the garment trading industry, according to residents. Scepticism of the police is widespread in China and many smaller across the country have been sparked by allegations of malpractice.

By Wednesday evening, the protest had dissipated amid heavy rain, but a large military presence was still visible, with dozens of parked buses carrying special forces, soldiers and police.