XINHUA (China), NEW YORK TIMES, AP (USA), RADIO AUSTRALIA, (Australia)
BEIJING – China is mobilizing its security apparatus and tightening its grip over the public space ahead of the 18th Communist Party Congress, which begins on Nov. 8.
A volunteer security force of 1.4 million people has been assembled for the congress.
Workers and retirees have been mobilized, reports Xinhua, quoting a street photographer named Chen: "I have been taking shots for tourists for five years, and I am willing to be a security volunteer. With this armband, I am authorized to stop bad behavior among tourists."
Heightened security isn't unusual ahead of government events, but this year authorities aren’t taking any chances: Kitchen knives have disappeared from shops, and vehicles carrying toxic or dangerous chemicals have been banned from entering Beijing, reports Xinhua.
The Chinese government is also locking down the skies above the capital, says Radio Australia. The city has banned balloons, remote control helicopters and planes, as well as homing pigeons. In the late 1990s, dissidents released pigeons with slogans tied to their feet.
The AP reported that a memo on Chinese migroblogging site Weibo warned cabdrivers to be on guard against passengers “who may want to cast balloons with slogans or throw Ping-Pong balls with reactionary words." Cabdrivers were told to remove window handles and not to open their windows or doors near "important venues." They were also asked to report "suspicious" passengers to the authorities.
Internet has also slowed down to a snail’s pace, reports the New York Times, with many websites being blocked. International TV channels like CNN and BBC have disappeared from television sets in health clubs. In English bookstores, books on Chinese politics and history have been replaced with thrillers and weight-loss guides. “They’ll be back after the Congress,” said an employee.
On Thursday, said the AP, China sentenced Cao Haibo, a democracy advocate, to eight years in prison on the charge of inciting subversion for starting several online groups and participating in political discussions.