Chinese citizen journalist who documented Covid-19 in Wuhan resurfaces after 600 days

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SINGAPORE — A Chinese citizen journalist whose viral videos offered an early, unfiltered glimpse into the Covid-19 epidemic as it consumed the city of Wuhan has resurfaced more than 600 days after he disappeared.

Chen Qiushi, a lawyer and self-proclaimed citizen journalist, disappeared in February 2020 after spending about two weeks at the epicenter of what would later become a pandemic, posting often heartbreaking videos in their portrayal of the fear and confusion that arose. ‘seized the locked city of 11 million people. Mr. Chen’s friends and family said they believe he was forcibly quarantined by state security officials, despite showing no symptoms of illness.

Mr. Chen reappeared Thursday with a short appearance on a friend’s YouTube live video stream and a letter. posted on his Twitter account.

“Over the year and the past eight months, I’ve been through a lot. We can talk about it, others can’t, ”reads Mr. Chen’s letter. “I believe you understand.”

Mr. Chen’s videos during the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak offered one of the few windows into what was happening in Wuhan when the public had little information about the virus. They were viewed millions of times on the popular social media platform WeChat before her account was deleted. Later, he continued to post videos to YouTube, which is blocked in China.

He documented the ongoing disaster by interviewing people who had lost loved ones and filming inside local hospitals. In a video, he spoke with another citizen journalist who had been visited by the local police.

“I’m not even afraid of death. Do you think I’m afraid of you, Communist Party? he said in a video released about a week before his disappearance, after revealing that local authorities had contacted him and his relatives to pressure him to return to his hometown.

When asked about Mr. Chen’s disappearance and reappearance, a police officer answering the phone at the Wuhan Municipal Public Security Bureau said he was not allowed to comment. Mr. Chen did not respond to requests for comment.

In March last year, US Congressman Jim Banks called on the State Department to urge China to investigate the disappearance of three citizen journalists in Wuhan, including Mr. Chen. Then Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said in an interview last year that he had not heard from Mr. Chen, and urged the United States to “respect legal proceedings ”from China.

Li Zehua, a former state media staff member who also did an independent report from Wuhan and disappeared around the same time as Mr. Chen, reappeared two months later in an online video but has since been remained out of public view. The fate of the third missing citizen journalist, Fang Bin, remains unknown.

The work of citizen journalists, along with the public accounts of residents and doctors trapped in the city, produced a rare unscripted moment in a country where speech is typically subject to strict controls, especially in times of crisis.

After an outburst of public anger sparked by the illness and the eventual death of Li Wenliang, a local doctor who had previously been punished for warning friends about the new virus, the government decided to take back control of the story. He deployed hundreds of state media reporters in the city, stepped up online censorship, and detained Mr. Chen and others who provided unapproved information.

In April, the Communist Party held a celebration of the first anniversary of the lifting of the Wuhan lockdown. State media reports at the time described the city as “rising from the ashes” and portrayed the country’s success in controlling the spread of Covid-19 as evidence of the superiority of the party leadership.

In his video appearance Thursday, hosted by mixed martial artist Xu Xiaodong, Mr. Chen said little about his passing, instead touting the physical and mental health benefits of mixed martial arts.

In his first Twitter post after his re-emergence, Mr. Chen announced a new registered account on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, saying he was planning to host a charity martial arts competition.

“The Douyin account is now blocked,” he posted an hour later.

Write to Keith Zhai at [email protected]

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