A second Chinese citizen journalist who had been covering China’s deadly coronavirus outbreak from its epicenter in Wuhan has gone missing just days after the disappearance of Chen Qiushi, a former rights lawyer who was video blogging from the city.
Fang Bin, a Wuhan businessman who had been posting videos filmed from city hospitals, was allegedly arrested on Sunday (Feb. 9, link in Chinese), according to Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK, the same day he posted a 12-second video of a piece of paper with the words “resist all citizens, hand the power of the government back to the people” written on it, which he read aloud. RTHK, which didn’t name its source, said that plain-clothes police officers accompanied by fire fighters broke down Fang’s door to enter his flat. Hua Yong, a Chinese artist and rights activist, told Quartz yesterday that Fang’s friends had separately told him of the arrest.
In China, citizen journalists are rare because they can’t obtain the official certificate required for reporting news as they don’t work for a registered outlet—but amid increased public anger against the authorities, some have taken on the risk of offering the outside world a first-hand glimpse of the situation in Wuhan. But as China’s government struggles to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 1,110 and infected close to 45,000 people, it has also stepped up efforts to contain the narrative around the epidemic and keep public anger centered on local authorities. In addition to dispatching journalists to produce more “positive” coverage from Wuhan, Beijing has censored the more critical coverage from Chinese media, and is silencing specific voices.
Fang’s apparent detention follows that of Chen, who had been posting mobile phone videos of packed hospitals and distraught relatives on YouTube and Twitter until Feb. 4; his family and friends say they haven’t been able to contact him since Thursday (Feb. 6). Xu Xiaodong, a mixed martial artist and a friend of Chen, said in a YouTube video that Chen had been placed in a mandatory quarantine. News of Chen’s disappearance came as the country was plunged into mourning last week because of the death on Friday of Li Wenliang, a doctor who had tried to warn other medical workers about an outbreak of mysterious pneumonia cases in December, but he was admonished by police for spreading “rumors.” The death prompted calls for the government to apologize to Li’s family, and sent the phrase #I want free speech# trending on social media until it was censored.
US lawmakers and the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists have called for Chen’s release.