Beijing '100 Percent Covered' by Web of Surveillance Cameras

china-cameras-oct52015.jpg Surveillance cameras set up in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in an undated photo.

Beijing is now covered by a blanket network of surveillance cameras, busily recording footage of the daily activities of the city's residents and visitors, police said on Monday.

The city's police department said in a statement that "every corner" of the capital is now covered by the municipal surveillance system, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"The complete coverage by the video system during the holiday is part of a move to tighten the capital's security and avoid crimes in crowds," it said.

The upgrade, which has seen a 29 percent rise in the number of cameras on Beijing's streets, is part of a nationwide "skynet" policy requiring cities across China to achieve full video surveillance coverage.

"[This is] the first time that the system has provided complete coverage in the city since being upgraded in 2012," the police statement said, adding that more officers are also now patrolling markets, bus stations, and parks.

City authorities have trained more than 4,300 police officers in the running of their local video surveillance network since the start of this year, and surveillance footage has been used to solve more than 1,500 cases, a rise of 22 percent on 2014, Xinhua said.

'Controlling behavior'

Beijing rights activist Hu Jia said fighting crime isn't the only use to which the surveillance network can be put, however.

"We are now completely covered by 'skynet,' which is a huge network aimed at controlling people's behavior on the streets," Hu said.

Hu has been repeatedly held under house arrest since his release from a three-and-a-half-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power" after he wrote online articles critical of Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

He said he is currently free to move around, but is under blanket technological surveillance both on the streets and at home, through covert electronic listening devices.

Guangzhou-based online activist Ye Du said the surveillance upgrade was likely sparked by the 2013 jeep explosion and fire in Tiananmen Square that left two bystanders dead.

"There are all sorts of reasons for them to do this, including the challenge from the peoples of Xinjiang and Tibet, and also calls for more rights and freedoms since 2008," Ye said.

Artist spied on

Beijing's surveillance upgrade came as outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei posted photographs to his Instagram account after he found several listening devices in his Beijing studio, friend and lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told RFA.

The photos showed electric sockets that allegedly contained the devices, revealed during the remodeling of Ai's office, studio, and bedroom.

Ai was held in unofficial detention for 81 days in 2011 and later charged with alleged tax evasion after speaking out on a number of issues embarrassing to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, charges which he rejected as politically motivated.

His passport was confiscated and only returned to him last July.

Ai's mother Gao Ying said the devices were likely installed by the Chinese authorities four years ago when Ai’s studio was searched by police with a fine-tooth comb.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by He Ping and Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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