Wuhan citizen journalist Chen Qiushi under surveillance but may escape prosecution

Mimi Lau
·3-min read

Lawyer Chen Qiushi, who went missing from Wuhan for more than a year after reporting on the coronavirus outbreak, remains under surveillance at his parents’ home in eastern China but could escape prosecution, according to a close friend.

In a video posted to YouTube on Monday, Xu Xiaodong said: “Qiushi is now in Qingdao with his parents … I cannot reveal how I know it but I have seen a video [about him recently]. His health has improved under his parents’ care – much better than the time when he was taken away.”

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Chen, 35, went to Wuhan in central China before it was put under lockdown in January last year. He was taken away by police and sent to the port city of Tianjin in north China for investigation after his reports on the disease which first emerged in the city. He remained unaccounted for until September, when Xu first reported Chen had been transferred to Qingdao where his parents live.

In his latest video, Xu said Chen could now access the internet and watch the news, but had yet to regain his freedom and was not allowed to communicate with the outside world. “He can stroll near his [parents’] home, go jogging and buy some basic daily necessities within a designated area,” Xu said.

“He is now uncontactable and cannot be in normal communication with the outside world. That’s all I can say about him without putting anyone at risk,” he added, while slapping himself on the cheek as he described the restrictions as “protection” for Chen by the authorities.

Based on his own analysis, Xu said he was hopeful Chen would be released from surveillance in the autumn. According to Xu, the authorities had given no indication they intended to press charges against him or strip him of his lawyer’s licence.

“After being taken away from Wuhan, he was brought to Tianjin for investigation. I regretted how authorities in Tianjin handled [Chen] but I’m grateful for the physical care extended by Qingdao authorities to him,” Xu said. “So far, there is not a single official document about charges to be laid against him,” he added.

China jails citizen journalist Zhang Zhan for four years over Wuhan coronavirus reports

In January last year, Chen posted a video on his blog announcing his arrival in Wuhan and for two weeks reported on what he saw in hospitals, funeral homes and public venues as the virus spread across the city. He disappeared on February 6, after posting a message online claiming he had collected evidence about how the epidemic had overwhelmed Wuhan’s public health and service systems.

Chen was one of several citizen journalists who ran into trouble over their reporting in Wuhan. Former lawyer Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison in Shanghai in December for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a broadly defined offence often used by police to stifle dissent.

Li Zehua and Fang Bin were also detained for their independent reporting from Wuhan on the pandemic. Li reappeared on Chinese social media in late April but it remains unclear whether Fang, a resident of the city and a high-profile blogger, will be spared prosecution.

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