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AP/Alexander F. Yuan
A Chinese detention center.

More than twenty Chinese investors are still missing, days after a police crackdown on a planned protest

By Quartz

Over two dozen Chinese investors in Fanya Metal Exchange haven’t made any contact with friends or family members since they were arrested on Oct. 25, ahead of a planned protest in Beijing.

They were detained as part of a massive police crackdown on Fanya investors, who have been agitating for the government to help them recover an estimated $6 billion they invested in the trading platform that now many suspect is a fraud. Investors have been unable to access any of their money since April, and about 10,000 signed up to participate in a protest in Beijing on Oct. 26.

A total of 28 protest organizers, who represented investors from different provinces and cities, were arrested by police during an evening meeting in Beijing on Oct. 25, several investors told Quartz. None of them had been in touch with their families or other investors by Thursday morning, these investors said. Family members of seven have received police notices that their relative is being held on suspicion of “gathering crowds to disturb public order,” which could carry a five-year jail term. There has been no news about the 21 others.

Quartz talked directly to four investors who had been jailed as part of the larger crackdown, and three who witnessed or heard about the arrests of others in the past 48 hours. These would-be protesters, and others Quartz has spoken to in the past, are mostly middle class people in their thirties and forties who have never had any run-ins with the government before. But they say they see no other way to get the government to notice their plight after complaints and previous protests got no reaction.

“We were just exercising rights given by the constitution,” one told Quartz. Article 35 of China’s constitution guarantees citizens freedom of speech, assembly, and demonstration, among other rights, but it is rarely upheld.

Investors estimate police detained 2,800 people who planned to participate in the Oct. 26 demonstration, rounding them up in the capital city and as they traveled to Beijing from Shanghai, the northern Shanxi province and other areas. Most have been released without incident, but the future could be bleak for the 28 who remain in custody.

Investors forwarded a police notice to Quartz dated Oct. 27 that refers to one of the detainees. The person, whose name and address has been blacked out by Quartz, has been held under “criminal detention” in Beijing Fengtai District Police Station since 8pm on Oct. 26. The person was detained for suspicion of “gathering crowds to disturb public order,” it says:

Quartz/supplied by Fanya investors
A police detention notice investors supplied to Quartz.

Most of the investors detained on Oct. 25 in Beijing were released the following morning, and took trains back to their hometowns under local government official supervision. They were held in Jiujingzhuang relief center, originally a shelter for homeless people, where they remained overnight:

Quartz/supplied by Fanya investors
Investors held in Jiujingzhuang on Oct. 25, 2015.

One investor from Shanghai, who asked to be identified by her English name Wendy, recounted her night in Jiujingzhuang to Quartz:

All the detained investors were kept in a hall for the first few hours, she said, after being arrested Sunday evening. The police officers confiscated ID cards, then broke investors into groups by their residential provinces or cities, and put them in separate rooms. There was no water or food offered for the entire night, and investors sat on “cold metal” chairs, she said. At around 7am on Monday, she and 100 other investors from Shanghai were met by Shanghai officials, who gave them breakfast, their first meal in nearly 12 hours. “Two steamed bread, a pack of pickles, and a ham sausage, nothing else,” she said.

Quartz/supplied by Fanya investors
Investors’ ID cards confiscated by police.

As many as 220,000 Chinese investors put money into Fanya Metal Exchange, which halted all trading six months ago. The Chinese government played a part in Fanya’s rise, but so far local and national government have done little to get investors’ money back.

The planned protest on Oct. 26 coincided with China’s fifth plenum, a meeting of over 200 Communist Party’s top leaders that concludes today, and several investors have told Quartz that police officers said they were instructed to “maintain stability” during the meeting.

Even though the Oct. 26 protest didn’t happen, police were still arresting Fanya investors who were in Beijing that evening. One investor, who asked not to be identified, told Quartz she was taken by police to Jiujingzhuang on Monday evening, from an apartment she rented with seven other investors in Beijing in order to escape police checks on hotels. She said she was kept there for 24 hours and then released.

Investor believe police are using the complaints they lodged about Fanya with local and national authorities to track them down.

“You can come to Beijing anytime, but not during the meeting” a 40-year-old Shanghai investor surnamed Shi told Quartz a police officer told her as she was brought to Jiujingzhuang on Sunday night. Shi said she was both “confused, sad and angry” about the government’s reaction to their protest.

“Why did the government deploy such massive manpower to control investors, but not to investigate the truth?,” she said.