Chinese authorities reportedly arrested a citizen journalist on Monday after videos he took of dead bodies piling up at a crematorium went viral on social media.
Fang Bin, who has posted several hugely popular videos showing what is happening on the ground in Wuhan, was arrested by police officers at 3 p.m. on Monday according to local media outlets and multiple accounts of the incident on social media.
A screenshot posted online suggests Fang was attempting to post another video at the time of his arrest.
Fang refused to respond to police requests to leave his apartment so the authorities surrounded him home, blocking off any possible escape routes. Eventually, firefighters broke down his door.
Just days before he was taken into custody, Fang posted a video saying that the only reason authorities have not broken down his door is the fact that his videos had attracted too much attention.
"If they don't come to me, they'll turn to you,” he warned, adding that plainclothes police officers were monitoring his every move.
In a bid to ensure his safety, Fang had told his followers he would post a video every morning so people knew he was safe. No video was posted on Monday.
Fang first came to the authorities’ attention earlier this month, after he posted a video showing eight corpses within five minutes at public hospitals in Wuhan. Fang was subsequently detained by authorities who warned him not to spread rumors before releasing him again.
But Fang continued to post videos online leading to his arrest on Monday. He is one of a growing number of people who have been detained and silenced over their coverage of the situation in Wuhan or their criticism of Beijing’s response to a crisis that has already killed more people than the 2003 SARS epidemic and infected over 40,000 people.
Last week there was an unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger at the death of Li Wenliang, the doctor who had tried to warn the world about the coronavirus in late December, but who was silenced by police in Wuhan and warned about talking up again.
As the coronavirus spread in Hubei province, citizens who typically don’t criticize the government spoke up, and a band of citizen journalists began posting content on platforms like YouTube and Twitter where Chinese censors could not reach it.
One of those was Chen Quishi, a former human rights lawyer Chen Qiushi, who became famous for his accounts of the Hong Kong protests last year.
Chen’s reporting in Wuhan has shown how taxi drivers there knew about the outbreak as early as mid-December, and how medical staff at Wuhan’s hospitals had become infected with coronavirus, despite government claims to the contrary.
But Chen has not been seen or heard from since 7 p.m. local time on Thursday when he was due to visit one of the temporary hospitals established in Wuhan. His mother posted a video on Twitter calling for help locating her son.
“I am Chen Qiushi’s mother. Please, online friends and especially those in Wuhan, please help me and find Chen Qiushi and find out what happened to him,” she said in a video posted on her son’s Twitter page, which is being managed by a friend.
Over the weekend, Xu Zhangrun, a professor of law at Tsinghua University, who recently wrote an article criticizing Beijing’s handling of the crisis, also went missing.
On Monday a colleague of Xu’s reported that the academic was now back home but had access to his WeChat account blocked, and gave no other details of what happened.
“The mess in Hubei is only the tip of the iceberg and it’s the same with every province,” Xu said in the article.
Xu is closely monitored by the Chinese authorities after he published an article in 2018 that criticized the decision by the Communist party leaders to lift the two-term limit for presidents.
Cover: Coronavirus whistleblower Fang Bin was arrested after his videos of corpses piling up at Wuhan hospitals went viral. (Source: YouTube)