Police in riot gear on Friday stormed an apartment in southern China where about 40 student labor-rights advocates and others supporting factory workers seeking to form a labor union were staying, according to people who said they received a video of the raid as it was taking place.
The footage, which was shared with reporters, showed police wearing shields and helmets bursting into the students’ accommodation and scuffling with the occupants.
The footage appeared to show an apartment where the students were staying in Huizhou, near the southern city of Shenzhen, that had been previously visited by reporters.
The video could not be independently verified.
It was not immediately clear what happened to the students.
Calls to police in the area and five people who had been staying at the apartment went unanswered.
Labor rights advocates in other parts of the country who are following the case and had been in touch with people on the scene said they were unable to contact them.
The raid is the latest step by the Chinese authorities to clamp down on a growing labor movement in Guangdong Province that started brewing last month when workers at a welding machinery company, Jasic International, were fired when they tried to create a union.
Labor rights are viewed as a challenge by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which opposes independent unions and punishes protesters.
On July 27, police detained 29 people, including laid-off workers, their families and supporters. Fourteen people remained in detention.
Since then, support has poured in, with about 50 labor rights advocates, most of them students, traveling to Guangdong to back the workers.
A person who shared the footage of Friday’s raid with reporters said it took place just after 5am.
The person, who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the footage, said the images were received directly from students in the room when the police entered.
Pressure had been mounting on the group.
In interviews a day before the raid, 15 activists involved in the Jasic case described a multi-pronged effort to force them to disengage from the workers’ cause.
The authorities have flown many of the young people’s parents to Guangdong and put them up in hotels to undergo “training sessions” about how to raise their children, several students said.
Authorities lectured the parents on text messages to send to their children.
They also arranged to have parents show up at various places where their children were, including the apartment and shopping areas where protests have been staged, they said.
The Chinese Ministry of Education issued a notice early this week to universities across the nation telling them to stop students from traveling to Guangdong to participate in the protests, screenshots of messages sent by universities to students showed.
The universities gave a range of explanations to students about why it was unsafe for them to go to Guangdong, including an approaching typhoon and the risk of being recruited into a pyramid scheme, several students said.
Reporters were unable to verify the order and the ministry did not respond to faxed questions.
The hashtag “what’s up with Guangdong?” was trending on microblogging sites as the ministry’s notice spread.
Several of the students’ university advisers had apparently also flown to Guangdong to try to persuade them to leave, some of the activists said.
The protests have spread to Beijing where, on Wednesday and Thursday, a group of 20 students, labor rights advocates and two worker representatives from Jasic submitted petition letters at the headquarters of the All-China Federations of Trade Unions and the All-China Women’s Federation.
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