The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today called on Chinese authorities to provide information on the location and condition of two missing citizen journalists who had been covering the coronavirus epidemic. IPI also urged the authorities to ensure that journalists are able to cover the events related to the outbreak without fear of reprisal.
The two citizen journalists, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, who had been reporting from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, went missing earlier this month.
Chen Qiushi, a 34-year-old human rights lawyer, had been reporting on social media from Wuhan, where he reportedly travelled to January 24 with the last train before the city was placed under state-imposed lockdown with widespread travel restrictions. Qiushi reported from hospitals, funeral parlors and makeshift isolation wards in videos he posted online. He was last heard from on Thursday, February 6.
On Friday, the day after Qiushi’s disappearance, his mother posted a video on his Twitter account in which she said her son was unreachable and asked for help in finding him. Later the same day, according to reports, Qiushi’s friend said in a video posted on Qiushi’s YouTube channel that the citizen journalist had been forcibly quarantined for 14 days, considered to be the maximum incubation period for the virus. The friend said the journalist had shown no signs of infection.
Fang Bin, a 47-year-old Wuhan businessman, began posting videos about the spread of coronavirus in Wuhan on social media on January 25, according to reports. On February 1, after posting a video showing eight corpses piled in a minibus outside a hospital in Wuhan, Bin was arrested and interrogated before being released. However, on February 9 Bin was arrested again and his YouTube channel went silent after he had posted a short video with words “all people revolt – hand the power of the government back to the people”. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Chinese authorities have not published any official statement regarding the location and condition of the missing citizen journalists, or if they have been put into quarantine. In China, filming inside a hospital and sharing non-official information about coronavirus is forbidden. The government and state media tightly control what is published about the outbreak.
“China should provide information on the whereabouts and condition of Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We urge officials to stop any harassment of journalists and citizens covering the coronavirus outbreak. In providing relevant information to the public and to the authorities, freedom of the press is a friend, not a foe, in efforts to contain the outbreak.”