Dozens of gay men who gathered at an outdoor pick-up spot in Beijing were rounded up and detained in a huge police swoop ahead of China’s National Day holiday, an activist said Tuesday.
Officers and riot police descended on Mudanyuan, a forested area in northern Beijing that is the capital’s largest gay pick-up spot, late Sunday and Monday, said Guo Ziyang, a project manager at the Beijing Gay Working Group.
“According to those who were there, riot and normal police detained more than 80 people on Sunday, made them register and took photos, and then they let them go,” Guo, whose organisation campaigns for gay rights, told AFP.
“On Monday night they again went to check IDs but I still don’t know whether people were detained.”
According to the official Global Times newspaper, those who were detained were also required to take a blood test and leave their fingerprints.
Beijing police spokesman Zi Xiangdong said the swoop was part of the normal annual citywide public security inspection ahead of the National Day holiday on October 1 that marks the founding of communist China, according to the report.
He did not elaborate on what regulations had been violated by the men, it added.
Beijing police were not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP.
“The deep-seated reason is that society has not provided homosexuals with a tolerant environment,” Guo said, adding that the fact that hundreds of gays regularly gathered at Mudanyuan had attracted police attention.
Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder in China until 2001. Today, gays face crushing social and family pressure and many remain in the closet as a result, despite gradual steps towards greater acceptance.
Experts estimate there are about 30 million gays and lesbians in China — 2.3 percent of the population — but observers say the number could be higher as many still refuse to come out.
The Global Times report quoted a 35-year-old gay man who used to be a frequent Mudanyuan visitor as saying that on weekend nights, as many as 300 gays could gather there.
“Many people have sex here, including paid service,” he said, adding that robberies were common.
Guo said Mudanyuan was a place where gays with no money to go to bars or hotels would gather.
“Police hope that through continuous harassment they won’t come anymore, but this can’t be as they will still go out,” he said.