Chinese intellectuals and scholars have openly criticised a “ruthless” campaign to evict thousands of migrant workers from Beijing. This is part of the city’s 40-day campaign against illegal structures.

The latest round of evictions began in the wake of a fire on November 18 that killed 19 people in an industrial neighbourhood in south Beijing, and 17 of the victims were migrants.

As reported by The Guardian, critics signed an open letter addressed to the country’s leadership and circulated on Chinese social media. In the letter, they called the evictions “a serious trampling of human rights”. Signatories included professors, researchers, poets and artists and more names continued to be added.

“Any civilised and law abiding society cannot tolerate this, we must clearly condemn and oppose these actions,” the letter said.

According to William Nee, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, it is “somewhat astounding” that the large numbers of migrant workers could be evicted so quickly.

“And, of course, China maintains the world’s largest censorship apparatus, so that it’s hard to meaningfully debate issues of injustice.”

According to The Guardian, Beijing officials have denied they are targeting migrant workers. They say they are focused on safety.

“It is irresponsible and groundless to say the campaign is to evict the ‘low-end population’,” an official from the Beijing Administration of Work Safety told local media.