“It is much, much worse than 1989,” Shao Jiang, one of the student leaders instrumental in crafting the list of demands, told Reuters from London, where he lives in exile.

“The Chinese government has turned China into a big prison,” Shao said, referring to the internment of a million or more minority Muslims in its Western Xinjiang region, and the government’s extensive “stability maintenance” measures to monitor dissidents.

China describes the camps as vocational training centers and has justified martial law-like conditions, with mass surveillance, police patrols and DNA collection, in the name of counterterrorism.

Despite a constitution that promises freedom of speech, religion and assembly, large-scale political protests like those seen in 1989 are almost unthinkable in today’s China, where even small demonstrations can be quickly snuffed out by police with sophisticated digital surveillance.