On Sunday, Chinese security guards violently beat demonstrators to shut down a protest against several rural banks. The demonstrations come after the banks froze millions of dollars belonging to hundreds of thousands of depositors, leaving many destitute since April.
Over 1,000 depositors gathered outside the People’s Bank of China in the city of Zhengzhou, the capital of the Henan province, demanding their life savings be returned, according to CNN.
Video of the demonstration shows plainclothes guards violently breaking up the protest.
“In Zhengzhou, Henan, bank depositors were beaten, arrested and quarantined by underworld thugs hired by the government,” one Twitter user wrote, according to a translation of the tweet.
In another video posted on Twitter, demonstrators shout at hundreds of police marching toward them.
“The depositors are yelling “黑社会” (mafia or gangsters) at the hundreds of cops marching in,” the Twitter user wrote.
A woman from Shandong told CNN that two security guards pushed her to the ground and injured her arm. Another witness to the chaos said seven or eight guards kicked him while he was on the ground.
“Why would government employees beat us up? We’re only ordinary people asking for our deposits back, we did nothing wrong,” the Shandong woman said.
“This is not bankrupt Sri Lanka but World’s second largest economy – China. Public protesting as many Chinese rural banks has frozen their bank accounts,” Rishi Bagree tweeted with additional video of the scene.
Another depositor said he was shocked by the violence.
“I did not expect them to be so violent and shameless this time. There was no communication, no warning before they brutally dispersed us,” one depositor, who requested anonymity, told CNN.
The demonstrators were transported to temporary detention sites or hospitals, and many were released by the late afternoon, people who were part of the demonstration said.
Other protesters told The New York Times that dozens of people were beaten by police.
“We came all the way to Zhengzhou to get our money back, and we didn’t want to have conflicts with anyone,” said Feng Tianyu, 31, who lives in the northern city of Harbin. “But the government sent so many people to deal with the unarmed people. We were cheated financially, beaten physically and traumatized mentally.”
After the demonstration was violently dispersed, the Henan banking regulator issued a statement announcing “relevant departments” were ramping up efforts to verify customer funds.
“(Authorities) are coming up with a plan to deal with the issue, which will be announced in the near future,” the regulator said.
Chinese authorities also announced on Sunday that an alleged “criminal gang” had taken control of the rural banks since 2011, and had illegally transferred funds through fake loans. The gang members have been arrested, authorities said.
Since their funds were frozen in April, some protesters reported that when they complained, their mandatory health codes were turned red to indicate they had COVID.
“I got the red code for about 10 days [when trying to complain],” a depositor told the Guardian. “The government should help us to resume cash withdrawal service as early as possible, so that we can resume our normal life.”