China has a history of, as it is with many dictatorial countries, making people ‘disappear’ who say things that the government does not like. Now there are reports that citizen journalists covering the coronavirus are also disappearing as the government cracks down harder on social media in what appears to be an attempt to obscure the true extent and effects of the virus.
Over the past couple of weeks, Chinese citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin have served as the world’s eyes and ears inside the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the city of Wuhan. Broadcasting via their mobile phones, they’ve offered a glimpse of how dire things have been. Many of those videos have been posted to Twitter and reposted on YouTube.
Now one of them is missing.
Chen has been out of reach for more than 20 hours. Fang, who was silent much of Friday until a video posted in the evening, was previously detained briefly by authorities for his video of corpses in a hospital. When he filmed the dramatic moment people in hazmat suits broke down his apartment door to take him into quarantine, it sparked hundreds of comments urging the authorities to release him.
Chen, the most visible among scores of residents documenting the human disaster around them, has for many followers become the go-to source for real facts about the epidemic. Wuhan locals have filmed some of the most chilling videos during the outbreak, including images of untreated corpses, discontent among quarantined patients in hospitals and police knocking on doors to enforce censorship. Bloomberg News has not independently verified the authenticity of those videos.
Twitter was becoming the last line of defense for people to gather information and record the trauma that thousands of families were experiencing.
“After lifting the lid briefly to give the press and social media some freedom,” said Wang about China’s ruling Communist Party, the regime “is now reinstating its control over social media, fearing it could lead to a wider-spread panic.” (source)