China Threatens Family of ‘Disappeared’ Wuhan Journalist

A pro-democracy activist (C) from HK Alliance holds a placard of missing citizen journalist Fang Bin, as she protests outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong on February 19, 2020, in protest against Beijings detention of prominent anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong. - Police in China have arrested Xu Zhiyong, …
ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images

The family of missing Wuhan citizen journalist Fang Bin has been threatened into silence by Chinese officials, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Tuesday

Fang was detained on spurious charges March 5, 2020, and has been held incommunicado ever since. His actual “crime” was reporting information about the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic that contradicted the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official narrative.

“Those who forge the path to freedom shouldn’t be left to the wolves. Where is Fang Bin?” U.S.-based Chinese dissident Cai Xia asked via Twitter on Friday, the one-year anniversary of Fang’s disappearance.

Fang Bin, 47 years old at the time of his disappearance, ran a clothing shop in Wuhan before he grew suspicious of state propaganda and decided to become a citizen journalist. “I wanted to go and see what’s actually happening. It’s what any normal citizen should do,” he explained.

Fang’s reporting from public hospitals in Wuhan included video of the corpses Chinese officials insisted were not piling up in the city. After he published those videos, he was questioned by police in hazmat suits who at first pretended to be concerned about his health, then simply dragged him off to a police station and confiscated his electronics. 

Fang escaped from that particular encounter with the authorities after public attention was drawn to his case, but was taken back into custody after reporting on hospital overcrowding in Wuhan (which should not have been happening, if the CCP was telling the truth about how many coronavirus cases there were) and was never heard from again. Other Chinese citizen journalists have subsequently been jailed for asking about Fang’s whereabouts.

One of Fang’s supporters told RFA he deserves credit as the first journalist to “warn the international community of the severity of the epidemic.” The Chinese government apparently agrees because it has punished Fang more harshly than most of the many other reporters it has imprisoned for speaking forbidden truth.

CCP officials first charged Fang with “spreading rumors” about the coronavirus, then switched to “incitement to subvert state power,” and finally settled on “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” the authoritarian regime’s all-purpose charge for getting rid of citizens it does not like. There appears to be no official record of Fang being formally charged or prosecuted, unlike most of the other reporters detained by China.

Fang’s case has been taken up by human rights groups and press freedom advocates, including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, to no avail.

RFA said on Tuesday that Fang’s friends and associates are increasingly concerned about his health, especially since his family has been pressured into silence:

A person familiar with the situation, who gave only a surname, Xu, said many of Fang’s friends have been contacting the authorities in recent days in a bid to discover his whereabouts.

“Fang Bin has a son working in Beijing, but he and Fang Bin’s sister have refused to answer inquiries,” Xu said. “No lawyer is involved in the case.”

“It’s hugely worrying that there has been no news,” he said, adding that Fang’s friends had been hoping for news of him after the U.S. presidential elections and the Biden inauguration in the U.S.

“It’s been a while since the U.S. election, and yet we still have no information about Fang Bin’s case,” Xu said.

Xu’s comment about the U.S. presidential election was a reference to Fang Bin’s son reportedly being told by a police official in November that his father’s case was “closely related to the U.S. election,” so it was “necessary to wait for the results of the U.S. election before deciding what to do with Fang Bin.”

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