Armed riot police in southern China have paraded four alleged violators of Covid rules through the streets, state media reported Wednesday, leading to criticism of the government's heavy-handed approach.
China banned such public shaming of criminal suspects in 2010 after decades of campaigning by human rights activists, but the practice has resurfaced as local governments struggle to enforce the national zero-Covid policy .
Four masked suspects in hazmat suits -- carrying placards displaying their photos and names -- were paraded Tuesday in front of a large crowd in Guangxi region's Jingxi city, state-run Guangxi News said.
Photos of the event showed each suspect held by two police officers -- wearing face shields, masks and hazmat suits -- and surrounded by a circle of police in riot gear, some holding guns.
The four were accused of transporting illegal migrants while China's borders remain largely closed due to the pandemic, the newspaper said.
Jingxi is near the Chinese border with Vietnam.
The public shaming was part of disciplinary measures announced by the local government in August to punish those breaking health rules.
Guangxi News said the parade provided a "real-life warning" to the public, and "deterred border-related crimes".
But it also led to a backlash, with official outlets and social media users criticising the heavyhanded approach.
Although Jingxi is "under tremendous pressure" to prevent imported coronavirus cases, "the measure seriously violates the spirit of the rule of law and cannot be allowed to happen again," Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Beijing News said Wednesday.
Other suspects accused of illicit smuggling and human trafficking have also been paraded in recent months, according to reports on the Jingxi government website.
Videos of a similar parade in November showed a crowd of people watching two prisoners being held while a local official read out their crimes on a microphone.
They were then seen marching through the streets in their hazmat suits, flanked by police in riot gear.
And in August, dozens of armed police were seen marching a suspect through the streets to a children's playground.