One of the Chinese citizen journalists who mysteriously disappeared nearly two months ago after reporting on the situation in Wuhan has resurfaced, and now he’s praising his captors who arrested, interrogated, and confined him for two months.
In a six-minute YouTube video, Li Zehua praises the security forces who kept him into quarantine for a month for acting in a “civilized way.” The video, posted Wednesday, shows Li standing in front of a white background talking to the camera.
VICE News could not reach Li for comment and therefore could not determine if the video was made under duress or as a condition of his release.
Li, a former employee of state-run television station CCTV, quit his job and traveled to Wuhan in February to report on the situation there. Before his detention, he posted videos from crematoriums, virology labs, and funeral homes inside the lockdown zone.
In the video, Li recounted what happened to him on Feb. 26 when an unidentified car chased him through the streets of Wuhan before security personnel showed up at his apartment and took him away.
Li explains that he was driving back from the Wuhan Institute of Virology a white SUV suddenly veered across the road and drove into on-coming traffic before stopping in front of him.
"I instinctively swerved to avoid it," Li says. "At the same time, I heard a few people in the car shouting at me to stop the car. I was surprised because I didn’t know who they were, or what was going on, so I sped away from them."
Li says he was eventually able to lose the SUV and returned to his apartment, but hours later people who identified themselves as public security personnel showed up at his door — something he live-streamed on YouTube at the time.
Li was detained and taken to Badajia Police Station in the Qingshan District of Wuhan where he was told he was being charged with disturbing the public order. His fingerprints, blood, and DNA were taken and he was interrogated for the next 12 hours.
Li said he was then taken to a quarantine hotel before all his electronics were taken off him and given to his friends.
During those two weeks, Li says he was given three meals a day, monitored by security personnel and allowed to watch the state-run CCTV station he used to work for.
On March 14, Li was then escorted by seven officials from the National Health Commission in Wuhan to his hometown. There, he was forced into another 14 days of isolation.
“During the whole process, the police were civilised, ensuring that I had enough rest and sufficient food. They also showed a lot of care towards me.,” Li says.
Li concludes by saying he is now with his family and planning for his future, adding: "I hope that the Chinese people will be blessed, and that the people of the world will unite."
Li’s tone and patriotic comment stand in stark contrast to his expose videos published before he was detained, leading many on social media to speculate that he is still not free.
China has been accused of covering up many aspects of the coronavirus crisis, including suppressing information during the early weeks of the outbreak, silencing doctors and arbitrarily detaining anyone who sought to speak up about the reality of the situation inside the Wuhan lockdown zone.
Li was just one of several journalists and academics who disappeared in February after posting videos about the situation inside Wuhan on YouTube.
Wuhan businessman Fang Bin disappeared on Feb. 10 after releasing a video claiming to show a pile of bodies in a minibus outside a hospital.
Meanwhile, Chen Quishi, a 34-year-old activist and human rights lawyer, disappeared four days earlier. Chen had traveled to Wuhan before the city went into lockdown to document what was happening there.
Neither has been heard from in almost three months.
Beijing has consistently denied allegations that it covered-up any aspect of the coronavirus outbreak inside its borders, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang saying once again on Wednesday that the CCP’s decisions were taken in an “open, transparent, and responsible manner.”
However, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, using Chinese state media reports or government announcements, has documented 897 cases involving Chinese Internet users who were penalized for talking about the coronavirus online or trying to share information. These cases occurred between January 1 and March 26, 2020.
Cover: Li Zehua appears in a YouTube video on April 22, 2020 after two months of confinement for shooting videos of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. (Screen shot: YouTube)