Chinese citizen journalist who exposed early Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan to be released

Citizen journalist Fang Bin who disappeared for three years after filming from hospitals and funeral homes early in the Covid-19 pandemic Wuhan. Picture Radio Free Asia.

Chinese citizen journalist who went missing three years ago after publicising videos of overcrowded hospitals and bodies during the Covid-19 outbreak is to be released, according to a relative and another person familiar with his case.

Fang Bin, along with other members of the public known as Chinese citizen journalists, posted details of the pandemic in early 2020 on the Internet and social media, which caused embarrassment for Chinese officials who faced criticism for failing to control the outbreak. Fang, a seller of traditional Chinese clothing, last posted a video on Twitter with a piece of paper reading…

“All citizens resist, hand power back to the people.”

Fang’s case forms part of Beijing’s crackdown on criticism of China’s initial handling of the pandemic, as the ruling Communist Party aims to control the narrative within the country. He was due for release yesterday, according to two individuals who wished to remain anonymous for fear of government retribution. One of them revealed that Fang was sentenced to three years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague charge often used against political dissidents or Chinese citizen journalists. The Associated Press could not independently confirm his release or verify the details with the authorities.

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Two offices of Wuhan‘s public security bureau neither provided a phone number for their information office nor answered any questions. Phone calls to a court that reportedly sentenced Fang remained unanswered yesterday afternoon. A representative from another court that had allegedly handled Fang’s appeal stated she was not authorised to answer questions.

In early 2020, the initial Covid outbreak severely impacted the city of Wuhan, with a population of 11 million residents, in central China’s Hubei province. The city experienced a 76-day lockdown, during which its streets were empty for months, except for ambulances and security personnel.

At that time, a few Chinese citizen journalists attempted to share their stories and those of others using smartphones and social media accounts, challenging the Communist Party’s strictly monitored monopoly on information. Although their movement was small, its scale was unparalleled in any previous major disease outbreak or disaster in China.

However, the information they posted soon led to trouble. Fang and another citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, disappeared in February. Chen resurfaced in September 2021 during his friend’s live video feed on YouTube, stating that he had suffered from depression but provided no details about his disappearance.

Zhang Zhan, another citizen journalist who reported on the early stage of the outbreak, received a four-year prison sentence in December 2020 on charges of picking fights and provoking trouble. Her lawyer stated that she was in ill health about eight months later after undertaking a long-running hunger strike.

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Sara is a journalist and content writer who specializes in lifestyle, wellness, and travel topics. Sara's journey in journalism began as a copywriter, and over time, her portfolio expanded to include articles and features for some of the nation's top lifestyle publications. Outside the office, she enjoys practising yoga and exploring hidden locations in Bangkok.