A citizen journalist – whose sudden disappearance after documenting the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan prompted global concern – is reportedly alive and well, a close friend says.
Chen Qiushi, a former human rights lawyer who gained widespread exposure for documenting the Hong Kong protests last year, vanished in February after travelling to Wuhan from Beijing to “document what is really happening” for his hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.
“I promise I won't… cover up the truth," he said in his first YouTube video as Chinese authorities strived to portray a message of control and competence to the world in regards to how the rapidly-spreading virus was being handled in the province of Hubei.
For months his whereabouts have been unknown while his social accounts were shut down, prompting grave fears for his welfare, and speculation he had been detained by Chinese authorities.
However several sources say he is now staying with his parents in their home city of Qingdao under close surveillance, the South China Morning Post reported.
On Thursday, Xu Xiaodong, a famous Chinese mixed martial arts fighter and friend of Chen, said in a YouTube video Chen was residing in a “designated residence” and is under “supervised surveillance”.
He said Chen had been subject to investigations which have found he has no links to “foreign forces” or “subversive activities”.
Chen has previously said he had faced intense interrogation from Chinese authorities for his time spent in Hong Kong.
An unnamed human rights lawyer also confirmed he is now living with his parents under surveillance.
The lawyer told SCMP such control is unlawful due to Chen not facing any charges.
Beijing’s battle for control over COVID rhetoric
Chen was among a handful of citizen journalists who were muted by Chinese authorities as Beijing was desperate to quash growing public anger towards the government and its response to the pandemic.
China’s social media apps such as Weibo and WeChat were rife with content regarding life inside Wuhan as it went into what is still to date the strictest lockdown during the pandemic to eradicate the virus.
Videos documenting draconian acts such as dragging people from the streets and locking people inside apartment blocks began to spread online, before China’s totalitarian government quickly removed them and anyone who was spreading them.
There was also a wave of anger across the nation following the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang who had tried to warn of the severity of the virus only to be silenced by authorities.
China has taken a defensive approach over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic amid accusations from US President Donald Trump they tried to cover up the severity of the virus while acting too slowly.
Australia is involved in a deteriorating tit-for-tat feud with China, which was sparked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s early calls for an independent investigation into the origins of coronavirus in China.
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