‘Brother Zeng’ was detained in March for rallying about 100 residents of the Sea Mountain community in Yingcheng, but is now facing the more serious charge of picking quarrels and provoking trouble

Social media users say the 45-year-old is being made a scapegoat for the city’s mishandling of the weeks-long lockdown

A woman in central China is facing criminal charges after being accused of rallying about 100 people to protest against poor management and overpriced provisions while their community was under lockdown in the fight against the

The 45-year-old, surnamed Zeng, is accused of organising two protests, on March 12 and 25, at the Sea Mountain residential complex in Yingcheng, a city of about 600,000 people about an hour’s drive from Wuhan in Hubei province, the municipal government said on Saturday.

Zeng was initially placed under administrative detention on March 27. While the term was not stated, the government said she was detained again on April 9, but this time on criminal grounds.

On Friday, she was formally arrested and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – an offence often used by police to detain dissidents and social activists, and that can attract a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The Yingcheng government said that Zeng – who despite her gender has the nickname “Brother Zeng” – encouraged her family, friends and other Sea Mountain residents to take part in the protests.

But while she claimed her grievances regarded poor property management and overpriced supplies, the local authority said she had an ulterior motive: to dissolve the incumbent community committee and evade paying her property management fees.

During the lockdowns in Yingcheng and other cities across Hubei, the supply of food to tens of millions of people was carefully controlled by local government agencies. But many residents found the goods on offer to be overpriced.

The protests at Sea Mountain came after a local man was detained by the police for providing the same products as the government but at lower prices.

Although Zeng was not identified in

, the government’s latest statement described her as a persistent troublemaker with a record of public order offences – including breaking into local council meetings – dating back to June 2016.

Since the start of last year, she had been charged with seven offences, including blocking construction projects and disrupting social order, it said, though did not specify what punishments she had faced.

Despite the alleged offences, many people on Chinese social media were incredulous.

Some Weibo users even accused the Yingcheng government of concocting “far-fetched” excuses to punish Zeng.

“Isn’t it true that the groceries were expensive and the management chaotic? And how could more than a hundred residents be so easily fooled?” one person said.

“Even if Zeng wanted to chair the community committee and didn’t pay her management fees, was that enough to arrest her? Where is the rule of law?” said another.

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