Protests and clashes between protesters and the security forces broke out in the central Chinese province of Henan on Sunday. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of a bank branch in the city of Zhengzhou, about 600 kilometers southwest of Beijing.
They were upset that, as bank customers, they no longer had access to their savings since mid-April. The background is a banking scandal that affects a total of four banks in Henan Province.
Thousands of customers have opened accounts with banks in Henan and neighboring Anhui Province because banks there have offered higher interest rates. But later they found out that they no longer have access to their savings.
According to media reports, a shareholder in these banks embezzled funds and then went into hiding.
As a result, many small savers tried to withdraw their savings, but the banks had frozen the accounts of thousands of customers. According to media reports, the security forces used violence against the demonstrators. Some demonstrators were taken away by the security forces.
There have been repeated protests by bank customers in Henan in recent months, but Sunday's demonstration was the largest yet.
One protester told AFP news agency that protesters "were beaten and wounded, disabled people were violently beaten down. He estimated the number of participants at "a few thousand."
"We came here today and are demanding our savings back," said one woman, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals. "I have elderly family and children at home. Not being able to withdraw my savings has seriously impacted my life."
Are the authorities abusing the Covid health passport?
Videos on social media showed people holding banners denouncing "corruption and the violence of the authorities in Henan". Some protesters accuse local authorities of colluding with banks to quell protests. For months there have been repeated allegations that the authorities are using the Covid health card to prevent people from demonstrating. This is intentionally set to "red". Thus, the protesters are deliberately excluded from public space.
In China, protests are relatively rare due to the massive government surveillance.