‘What happened to Tangshan women?’: Chinese demand answers over brutal restaurant attack

The women were brutally beaten by nine men in the northern city of Tangshan after one of them objected to being sexually harassed.

The attack – captured on surveillance cameras – sent shockwaves across China, prompting outrage from women who have long faced harassment and gender-based violence.

But the ensuing silence from the victims and their families has unnerved many who fear the worst for women, underscoring the public’s lack of trust in a system of government that routinely glosses over unwanted news – a propensity that has only been eased by a series of restrictions. stringent under the country’s zero Covid policy.

Many expressed fear for the women after watching the harrowing surveillance footage. The men dragged a woman out by her hair, beat her with bottles and chairs, and repeatedly kicked her in the head. A woman who had tried to help her was pushed away, falling heavily onto her back on the stairs.

Hours after the attack, a photo showed one of the victims lying on a hospital gurney. covered in blood, with his head bandaged. The following day, Tangshan police said two women were hospitalized with “non-life-threatening injuries” and were in “stable condition” – but there has been no update on the situation since.

Over the past week, rumors have spread that some of the victims were in far worse condition than authorities claimed. persistently spread online despite repeated denials of the police, hospital staff and the local branch of the China Women’s Federation, a state-supported women’s group.

Some claimed that surveillance video only captured part of the attack, and the violence continued off-camera in a nearby alley – it alleges CNN cannot independently verify. Another video circulating online shows residents placing bouquets of flowers in the alley.

Speculation mounted on Thursday as more videos – the authenticity of which cannot be confirmed – surfaced online.

On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, the hashtag “Following up girls beaten by Tangshan” had been viewed more than 200 million times as of Friday, generating more than 220,000 comments – with many demanding to know what happened to the women.

In a statement on Friday, Weibo said it had closed 320 accounts for “spreading rumors” about the Tangshan attack. A widely circulated article on the WeChat messaging app alluding to the rumors was also censored.

Persistent speculation has been fueled by a black hole of information surrounding the victims. None of them – or their friends and family – have spoken since the attack, and no official details have been released about their injuries. State media reports mainly focused on the police’s quick action in arresting the suspects and the two-week “storm” campaign announced by Tangshan authorities to crack down on organized crime.

Some media outlets known for their scathing reporting, such as China News Weekly, quoted hospital officials denying that any of the women had died, but this failed to convince the public.

“You authorities are denying rumors every day. Where is your evidence?” asked a Weibo user.

“Why are rumors flying everywhere? Because we can’t find a single sentence of truth anywhere,” said another.

The local police station told CNN the case was still under investigation and declined to share any extra information. The hospital where the women were treated did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. The local branch of the All China Women’s Federation hung up.

Even state media journalists were barred from reporting the fallout by local authorities, who tightened Tangshan’s Covid travel restrictions after the attack.

Anyone arriving in the city by train is required to provide a detailed address of where they are staying and sign a ticket promising not to leave; travelers planning to stay in hotels must register 48 hours in advance; those allowed to leave the train station are sent to their accommodations on government-organized buses, the state-run Jinan Times reported.

A journalist from the government-controlled Guizhou radio and television station said in a video on Weibo that when he arrived at the Tangshan train station on June 11, the day after the attack, he was not allowed to leave the station because “had not previously reported to the local residential community.” This is despite testing negative for the coronavirus the same day, being in possession of a “green health code” on their Covid app, and having traveled from a city with no recently reported virus cases.

“Is this really a normal epidemic prevention measure or are (authorities) trying to use Covid as an excuse to stop journalists from entering Tangshan?” he asked in the video since deleted.
This would not be the first time that local authorities in China have used Covid restrictions for political control. In Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, authorities were accused of tampering with the digital health code system to prevent a planned protest.

“Tangshan and Henan are really the most terrifying comparison: for eight days you know nothing about the Tangshan girls, but (Henan officials) know all your data in a second – where are you, which train ticket have you booked, and what you want to do,” Li Chengpeng, a prominent writer and social critic, wrote on social media on Saturday.

“What you know is what (authorities) let you know, what you don’t know will never be known.”

Like many other posts criticizing the government’s lack of transparency in handling the incident, Li’s article has since been censored.

CNN’s Shawn Deng contributed to the report.

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