A Goldsmiths graduate has been detained in China after attending a public demonstration
Siqi Li was detained after attending a vigil mourning those killed in the Urumqi fire
A graduate from Goldsmiths, University of London, has reportedly been arrested by Chinese police
Siqi Li attended a public vigil in Beijing last November for the 10 victims of an apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang – people blamed the deaths on the government’s “Zero-Covid” restrictions that prevented people from escaping.
She is reportedly still detained as of the publication of this article, having spent the Lunar New Year and her 27th birthday in custody.
On 27th November, Siqi attended a vigil at Liangma River in Beijing. Flowers and candles were brought to commemorate those who passed away during the Urumqi tragedy. Many attendees also held aloft blank pieces of paper – a symbol of protest to represent everything that couldn’t be said. The Urumqi fire sparked vigils and demonstrations in major cities across China. Attendees mourned those who died but many also called for the ending of China’s extreme zero-Covid controls and for greater freedoms.
Cao Zhixin, who was at the vigil alongside Siqi, recorded a video explaining that everyone joined out of sympathy for the victims and to exercise their basic rights.
“When our fellow countrymen die, we have the right to express our legitimate emotions,” she said.
She revealed that police “summoned” her and other attendees just a few days after the vigil. They were fortunately released after being “educated” by officers that time.
A friend told The London Tab that Siqi had messaged them on 1st December saying she had “encountered some problems” and that her WeChat messenger account was “not safe.” Afterwards Siqi deleted them and several other friends from her WeChat – seemingly as a way to protect them from being linked to her.
According to independent activists on social media, Siqi was then taken away on 18th December.
Zhixin recorded the video after watching her friends including Siqi disappear one by one since mid-December and asked friends to release it when she, too, disappears: “When you see this video I have already been taken away by police, just like my other friends.”
NPR confirmed Zhixin’s arrest in early January.
According to Zhixin, people had to sign blank arrest warrants without knowing why they were arrested, where they were going to be held, or how long they’d remain in custody. The charges section of the warrants was left blank by police.
Siqi was reportedly charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” It carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and has been described by activists as a “catch-all law” often used by Chinese authorities on protesters.
She studied a Master’s degree in cultural studies at Goldsmiths, and after graduating had been working as a freelance journalist and photographer.
Friends of Siqi described her as someone with a keen sense of style for writing and photography. They told The London Tab that Siqi experiences life with a certain sensitivity and inquisitiveness, always keen to expand her horizons and understand new things about the world – before sharing it with others.
“She loves to observe, either through camera lens or pen. She appreciate those who behave differently from what society expected of them”, said a friend of Siqi’s.
This is reflected in her work, including her photography series on London during the lockdown and her article on LGBT+ Chinese people living in the UK. Her most recent article was about spending two days sleeping rough with a friend in a run-down art park. She shared it on her website in November, just weeks before her arrest.
One friend wished her arrest would not define her, and that people could understand her from her writing and photography which “give an insight into her way of seeing the world”.
When approached by The London Tab for this article, a spokesperson for Goldsmiths responded: “We are aware of deeply concerning reports about the detention of a former Goldsmiths student in China for taking part in a peaceful vigil to remember the victims of the Xinjiang fire.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the suppression of free speech and urge the relevant authorities to immediately release individuals who were detained in relation to the vigil.”
Following the demonstrations, the Chinese government suddenly lifted its “Zero-Covid” restrictions, which unleashed a wave of cases and deaths on a population kept unexposed to the virus for years. While demonstrations have died down within China as the government quietly cracks down on those who participated, outside of the country rallies and protests have continued.
Zhixin said in her video: “Beijing has reached the coldest season. It will soon be the year-end festivals that are usually marked by family reunion. But our mothers, even if they want to send us some warm clothes, cannot find out where we are.
“They don’t know why we’re being treated like this. They don’t know when we’ll return home. I hope you can help us. Don’t let us disappear from this world unjustly.”
The London Tab contacted the Chinese Embassy in London for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.
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Featured image via YouTube.