While China announced on Thursday a spectacular drop in new coronavirus contaminations, Chinese citizens, who denounced the regime’s health management of the crisis on social networks, are missing. Among them: Fang Bin, clothing seller and Chen Qiushi, lawyer.
It has become a symbol of Chinese government censorship, in the midst of a coronavirus epidemic. Li Wenliang died Friday, February 7, after succumbing to the coronavirus. This doctor had alerted the authorities at the end of December, of the appearance of the virus in Wuhan, capital of Hubei. Since his death, other citizens have taken up the torch, showing images of overwhelmed hospitals on social networks. Embarrassing practices for the Chinese power which tries to muzzle these dissident voices, by intimidating them, even by stopping them, alert several NGOs.
Since they broadcast images implicating Chinese power in its management of the coronavirus crisis, Fang Bin, a clothing seller in Wuhan, and Chen Qiushi, a lawyer based in the same city, have disappeared. Both had posted videos on social media showing overworked caregivers in city hospitals.
Contacted by France 24, Fang Bin had told his motivations before disappearing. “When the city was quarantined, I realized that something was wrong. I went to the hospital and I saw people, there were a lot of people. That’s where I understood that Wuhan was the center of the epidemic, “said the Chinese citizen, who released his first videos in late January. “The hospitals are the places where the national TV stations, from Hubei and from Wuhan should go to interview people. But nobody went there. I told myself that if they did not want to go then I will film what is going on there. ”
One of the videos published by Fang Bin was particularly relayed on social networks. In this video published on February 1, he shows on YouTube several bodies wrapped in tarpaulins. They are placed inside a funeral truck, parked near the hospital in Wuhan. Fang Bin then enters the building where he witnesses the death of a man victim of the coronavirus.
The same day, Fang Bin is summoned to the police station. In parallel, a support video is published on the Internet and widely shared. Fang Bin is finally released after five hours of interrogation. Returning home, he continues to publish videos without leaving his home. “I am being watched by plainclothes police. They are at the east, north and west entrances to my building,” he warns, calling the internet users for help. “My safety depends on your attention, your awareness and your sharing.”
Since February 9, Fang Bin has been inactive on social networks and his relatives claim to have no news.
Over 350 Chinese Internet users sanctioned
Chen Qiushi, a 34-year-old Chinese lawyer, is also missing. “On February 6, he told his family that he wanted to film a hospital. But he has not been seen since, according to several reports and the statements of Chen Qiushi’s mother,” warned the NGO Committee to protect journalists (CPJ) in a press release .
“The Wuhan authorities must say whether they are holding journalist Chen Qiushi. If so, he should be released immediately,” said Steven Butler, coordinator of CPJ’s Asia program in Washington.
Like Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi had filmed hospitals overwhelmed by the number of patients suffering from coronavirus. Before disappearing, he said he was threatened by the regime. “I am afraid. I have the virus in front of me and the Chinese police behind me. But I will get up. As long as I am living in this city, I will continue my work. I will only tell what I see, what I hear. Fuck you, I’m not afraid of dying. You think I’m afraid of you, Communist Party? “, he was indignant in a video.
Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi are not the only ones who disappeared after criticizing the regime. On February 7, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders NGO released a statement, saying that 351 Chinese Internet users had been punished for “spreading rumors” .
“The majority of those involved in these cases are said to have been subjected to administrative detention ranging from three to 15 days. Some have also received fines, verbal warnings, forced” education “and forced confessions,” the document said. .
Another highly publicized case: that of Xu Zhiyong. On Tuesday, the NGO Amnesty International announced the arrest of the Chinese dissident. He criticized President Xi Jinping’s management of the coronavirus epidemic. He has been on the run since December, after participating in a meeting of opponents in the southeastern city of Xiamen.
The detention of Xu Zhiyong shows that the #Chinese government’s battle against the coronavirus has in no way diverted it from its ongoing general campaign to crush all dissenting voices and its ruthless assault on freedom of expression. https://t.co/0rKIPsHnY7
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) February 17, 2020
He nevertheless continued to disseminate articles on social networks denouncing the communist regime. “Medical supplies are lacking, hospitals are overwhelmed and many infected people are not screened,” he said, for example. “It’s a mess.” Both Amnesty International and the NGO Human Rights Watch are demanding the release of Xu Zhiyong.
Joined by France 24, Emmanuel Lincot, professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris and associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) explains that these repressive practices are not new in China. “Generally, we block the accounts of the targeted person, on social networks. Then, he can receive intimidation emails. If he persists in his behavior, the authorities can make him disappear. He can then be placed in a residence or a guarded hotel, “he said. In the worst case, the individual can be “sent to a laogai – a labor re-education camp – for several years”.
While seeking to silence opposition, China, where 74,500 people have been infected with the coronavirus and 2,118 people killed by the virus, is also using these discordant voices to serve its interests. According to Jean-Louis Rocca, sociologist specializing in China, professor at Sciences-Po and researcher at Ceri, contacted by France 24, these bloggers play a strategic role for the authorities. “It is very difficult for the Chinese authorities to know public opinion since in this country, all the media are linked to the government in place,” said Jean-Louis Rocca. “The Chinese authorities therefore let public opinion breathe. And, if certain citizens cross the limits, they send them a message of intimidation,” he continues.
So far, the regime has made no statement on the disappearances of Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi. The central government is content to communicate on China’s investment, determined to contain the expansion of the coronavirus. China, for example, announced on Thursday February 20 a spectacular drop in new contaminations, the lowest in almost a month with a net increase of 394 cases, or only a quarter of the figure announced the previous day. But not a word on the fate of these citizens who are missing.