Fourth Chinese citizen journalist went missing after covering the pandemic in Wuhan
Since the coronavirus outbreak began in January, at least three citizen journalists have gone missing in China after they covered the development of the pandemic in the original epicenter, Wuhan City. Last week, another citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan, who has been in Wuhan since February lost contact with her friend, and she was confirmed to have been arrested by police in Shanghai. She’s now charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
After Chen Qiu-Shi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua all went missing due to their coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, another citizen journalist from Shanghai, Zhang Zhan, also went missing last week. Zhang has been covering the development of the pandemic in Wuhan since February, and she mostly shares her updates through Twitter, Youtube and WeChat.
However, she suddenly lost contact with her friend on May 14. Several days before she went missing, Zhang told her friends that she had been followed by unknown people for several days. She also posted her last video on May 13, the day before she went missing, and in it, she described the mixed feelings in her mind.
“I’ve been having very mixed feelings today, and I don’t know what to say,” Zhang said in the video. “However, the people and things I’ve encountered in Wuhan has pushed me one step away from despair and fear.”
Prior to that, Zhang shared a tweet on April 1 that she was being surveilled at the hotel that she’s staying at. Even though she uploaded several videos since then, but the last video that she shared on social media was on May 13.
In order to confirm Zhang’s whereabouts, her friends went to the hotel that she was staying at on May 15, the day after she disappeared. Staff at the hotel told Zhang’s friends that she had checked out and said if they were already looking for her, they should already know what had happened to her.
Zhang’s friends then suspected that she might have been arrested by the police. On the same day, police at Shanghai’s Pudong Police Station found her family’s place in Shanghai and brought all the luggage she left in Wuhan to her parents. On May 16, it was confirmed that Zhang had been charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and she is now detained at a local detention center.
According to Leo Lan, China human rights consultant for Chinese Human Rights Defender, Zhang Zhan was merely exercising her right as a citizen to find out the truth and her right to freedom of expression.
“Citizens like Zhang are forced to take the risk of to report what they see on the ground because state-run media outlets can’t provide the true and whole picture of what is happening due to government censorship,” Lan said.
Doriane Lau, researcher at Amnesty International, said it is shameful that Beijing still decides to prioritize stability of the regime over people’s access to information in the face of the COVID19 pandemic.
“Zhang Zhan is one of the many citizen journalists, doctors, and activists reprimanded for speaking the truth about COVID19,” Lau said. “The Chinese government must stop its relentless crackdown on freedom of press and expression.”
According to the calculation of Chinese Human Rights Defender, at least 897 Chinese citizens have been punished by the Chinese police for posting information about the coronavirus outbreak online.
Before Chen Qiu-Shi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua were forced into disappearance, they were all documenting the development of the pandemic in Wuhan. Even though Li subsequently resurfaced in a Youtube video in April, there were many suspicious aspects of the video. So far, Chen and Fang are still missing.
This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.