Several hundred African immigrants protested in Guangzhou City, China, demanding that local police return the body of a fellow African who died in police custody. According to some estimates, this was the first-ever large-scale protest organized by immigrants in China.
Regime mouthpiece Xinhua estimated that only 100 took part in the protest, while the state-run Global Times said hundreds were involved. Photos circulated throughout the Chinese Internet showed at least 100 African protesters.
There is a sizable community of Africans in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu District where the demonstration took place, with estimates of between 20,000 and 200,000 living there. Many of the immigrants came from West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On Tuesday, the immigrant protesters blocked roads, held banners, and shouted, “Give us back the dead body!” Some referred to the man who died as “my brother.” State-run reports suggest the man was Nigerian.
The protesters were referring to an African man who got into a fight on Monday over a motorcycle taxi fare dispute. The man and the taxi owner were both taken into custody, but the immigrant apparently died later that day.
The Nigerian Embassy in Beijing told the state-owned China Daily that the man was 28-year-old Elebechi Celestine of Nigeria. Embassy official Ademola Oladele told the Daily, “We have sent officials to Guangzhou to observe the investigation and calm the Nigerians in the Nigerian residential areas.”
Oladele said the cause of Celestine’s death was not yet determined, but his office would seek “an independent autopsy report.”
Protesters claimed that a Chinese public security officer beat the man to death, which led to the protest. Allegedly, around 20 immigrants first gathered outside of a foreign trade area, in Sanyuanli, holding up a sign that read in English, “Give us the dead body.” This led to several more immigrants from nearby areas joining the protest.
Guangzhou police responded by sending riot police officers to disperse the protest. When riot police moved in, they tapped their shields with their batons and repeatedly broadcast a message over a loudspeaker in English, “You must leave; you must leave.” Some witnesses estimate that more than 300 riot police were deployed.
Police in Guangzhou acknowledged there were protesters and that riot police were sent to deal with them. Police said they would “take swift and decisive action” and would “resolve the incident in accordance with the law.” Local officials said the “immigrant lost consciousness suddenly” while he was in custody, and efforts to revive him failed.
On Sina Weibo, the most popular Chinese language microblogging platform, some witnesses said the Africans fought “courageously,” by throwing stones through windows of police vehicles and fighting back against riot officers. However, there were also reports that some of the protesters threw stones at vehicles that were just passing by.
One Twitter user commented that the protest shows how African immigrants in China support each other and wondered, “Would we stand up and fight for us Chinese?”
However, many of the Weibo and Twitter posts harshly criticized the Africans in Guangzhou, saying that they are in the city illegally and have elevated the crime rate.
Another Twitter user said, “Some people think foreigners are too overbearing. Local people don’t care about a foreigner who died at a police station, as long as it doesn’t affect us.”
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