A lawyer turned citizen journalist reporting from in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has been forcibly quarantined, friends and relatives said on Friday.
Chen Qiushi had been posting videos from Wuhan since January 24, the day after the city was put under lockdown. His dispatches offered a critical take on conditions in the city, including the state of hospitals as well as newly constructed isolation wards.
Chen’s videos and comments have featured in CNN’s reporting. His forced removal and quarantine comes less than 24 hours after the death of doctor Li Wenliang, who was also reprimanded by the state for revealing what he knew of the coronavirus outbreak.
"I’m scared, I have the virus in front of me and behind me China’s law enforcement,” Chen told viewers in an emotional video recorded on January 30 before his disappearance.
“But I will keep my spirits up, as long as I’m alive and in this city I will continue my reports,” he said.
Chen’s videos and personal accounts have been censored from Chinese social media sites, but he continued to post on Twitter and YouTube, where his most watched videos were regularly seen by more than a million people.
His friends told CNN they had been checking in with him multiple times a day, fearing he could be taken by the authorities at any time for his reporting. When he stopped answering calls at around 7 or 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 6 they grew increasingly concerned.
At 2:18 a.m. on Friday, February 7, Chen’s mother posted a video message on his Twitter page saying her son had disappeared.
“I’m here to beg everyone online, especially friends in Wuhan to help find Qiushi, find out what’s going on with him.”
Later that evening in a live broadcast, Xu Xiaodong, a famous MMA wrestler and friend of Chen, played a message from Chen’s mother saying he had been forcibly quarantined.
“In the last few hours the Qingdao public security officers and state security officers … notified Qiushi’s parents that Qiushi has already been detained in the name of quarantine. Qiushi’s mother immediately asked them where and when he was taken away, they declined to say,” said Xu.
Xu stressed that based on his interactions with Chen and the testimony of those on the ground, Chen had been in good health prior to his disappearance.
Both Wuhan city police and Qingdao city police said they had no information about Chen when contacted by CNN.
“We’re worried for his physical safety but also worried that while he’s missing he might get infected by the virus,” a friend who had been authorized by Chen to take over his Twitter account should he disappear told CNN. The individual requested anonymity for fear of reprisals by the government.
“(When) I saw there was still no information from him at all I started to feel a bit panicked and also slightly angry,” the friend told CNN.