Round up the usual suspects”, police captain Louis Renault famously ordered his men in the 1942 film Casablanca. Shenzhen’s city fathers now appear to be following a similar logic when it comes to crime prevention – only this time the term could cover 12 million residents.
At least 80,000 ‘undesirables’ have reportedly been evicted from the city so far this month. The move is part of Shenzhen’s “100-days Social Security Campaign” in the lead up to the 26th Universiade, a sort of University version of the Olympics kicking off in August.
“The difficulty of security work for the Shenzhen World University Games lies in the management of the floating population, especially those who pose high risks to public security,” Shen Shaobao, a vice-director of Shenzhen’s police department, explained at a press conference earlier this month.
So who counts as ‘high risk’? “People living in Shenzhen without proper identity… and those acting suspiciously [or] posing a threat to public security…” said Shen. That means ex-cons, the mentally ill, beggars, prostitutes and suspected drug traffickers.
But while the above categories are the most likely to be evicted from the city limits, Shen’s list also allows for removal of the unemployed and anyone without a Shenzhen hukou (residence permit). The trouble is that millions more fit that wider description. Out of a population estimated at 15 million, only around 2.6 million in Shenzhen have residence permits.
The remaining 12 million or so Shenzheners have played an important part in making the city what it is today and critics argue the eviction programme is an outrageous violation of their civil rights.
“I feel like I have been pushed away and discriminated against,” migrant worker Xu Yihui told the Global Times.
Similar city sweeps took place ahead of the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, so this isn’t the first time civil liberties seem to have taken second place to a high-profile event.
But Shenzhen’s officials appear to have misread the public mood. And this time around, even the normally more pliant elements of the state media seem unconvinced the measure is necessary. “The World University Games need a safe environment, but is it necessary to be so radical?” asked a Global Times editorial.
Online commentators on weibo microblogs were more outspoken. “This type of [action] is illegal,” wrote economist Xu Xiaonian. “It creates 80,000 grievances. This version of Shenzhen is not harmonious.”
Or as 21CN Business Herald put it, quoting an anonymous professor from Shenzhen University: “Shenzhen’s practice does not respect the rights of citizens.”
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