Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on fraud charges on 10 December 2022 for the alleged violation of a lease contract by his company, Apple Daily. Lai has been serving a 20-month sentence since April 2021 after being convicted in three cases of "unauthorized assembly" for participating in peaceful protests, and faces life in prison under separate charges under Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Domestic and international rights watchdogs decried the charges as baseless and politically motivated.
Protests erupted in cities across China over lockdown measures linked to China's zero-COVID policy - marking the largest show of public dissent in recent years. Demonstrators called for an end to the strictest COVID-19 policies, but also greater political freedoms and, in some limited cases, for President Xi Jinping to step down. The protests were triggered by reports of a deadly fire in Xinjiang on 24 November, where strict lockdown measures allegedly hampered rescue and evacuation efforts. Economic woes also influenced the unrest. Reports note the extensive use of digital surveillance tools to track, intimidate, and arrest those participating in the marches. Conversely, the protests led to some restrictions being abruptly lifted on 29 November, such as in Guangzhou and Chongqing.
Chairman Xi Jinping was elected for an unprecedented third term as the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) on 23 October. Xi's consolidation of power is reflected in the unveiling of his new seven-man Politburo Standing Committee (equivalent to the presidential cabinet) comprised mainly of loyalists and close allies, allegedly leaving no room for opposition to his rule inside the party. The 24-person Politburo committee also contains no women for the first time in 25 years. Xi's appointment has the potential of paving the way for lifelong rule, following his role in eliminating term limits in 2018.
A new wave of Covid-19 outbreaks prompted strict lockdowns and mass testing under the country's "zero-Covid" policy. Millions of residents were forced to stay at home for two weeks in Chengdu, with a similar three-day lockdown imposed on Shenzhen. An earthquake in the former prompted backlash from residents reporting that they were blocked from fleeing their homes. Experts have warned of the political use of such measures, with incessant lockdowns allegedly being imposed ahead of the National Party Congress in October.