A Chinese citizen journalist who went missing in the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak seven months ago is staying with his parents in the country’s east under close surveillance, according to several sources.
Chen Qiushi went to the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late January to report on the fast-spreading disease but disappeared in February and had not been seen since.
On Thursday, Xu Xiaodong, a Chinese mixed martial arts fighter and Chen’s close friend, posted a video on YouTube reporting that the 35-year-old was in good health and was being held under “supervised surveillance at designated residence” in Qingdao in the eastern province of Shandong.
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“The authorities have investigated his activities on the mainland, Hong Kong and Japan,” Xu said in the video.
“They are satisfied that he has no financial links with ‘foreign forces’, was not responsible for any subversive activities [and as a result decided] not to prosecute him.”
Xu confirmed on Wednesday that the video was authentic but declined to give further details, saying national security officials told him he must seek permission for media interviews.
A human rights lawyer, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Chen had been moved to Qingdao where the Beijing-based blogger’s parents live and where he is registered.
“[Chen] Qiushi, who is together with his parents, is under strict supervision by the authorities,” the lawyer said.
“Since the authorities have decided not to prosecute him, it is actually not lawful to continue to keep him in close surveillance.”
Chen arrived in Wuhan on January 24 and quickly posted a video on his blog announcing his arrival. In the next two weeks, he documented what he saw in hospitals, funeral homes and public venues in the city.
He disappeared on February 6 after posting a message saying he had collected evidence documenting how the epidemic had overwhelmed Wuhan’s public health and service systems.
Xu, Chen’s friend, then reported his disappearance saying he was being held for “quarantine” in Wuhan.
Chen was one of several citizen journalists to run into trouble over their reporting in Wuhan. Fang Bin and Li Zehua, two other high-profile bloggers, both went missing in early February.
Li reappeared in late April and said he had been escorted back to his hometown after “quarantine” in Wuhan and his hometown.
The whereabouts of Fang, a Wuhan resident, are unknown.
Zhang Zhan, another citizen journalist, is being held in Shanghai after being detained in Wuhan in May. One of her lawyers, Wen Yu, said Zhang was awaiting trial of charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a catch-all offence used to silence activists.
Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based independent political analyst and a former lecturer at Tsinghua University, said the authorities had kept a tight leash over citizen journalists out of concern that they could inflame public opinion against the government.
“During the epidemic, the police apparatus, which has authority to override the administration and medical system, was the main tool [the authorities used] to control people and tame public opinion. This included the reporting of citizen journalists, which were the main concerns of the authorities,” Wu said.
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