Missing activists: Wuhan whistleblowers mysteriously disappear

Publish Date
Fri, 1 Oct 2021, 9:46AM
Lawyer-turned-citizen journalist Chen Qiushi. Photo / Supplied
Lawyer-turned-citizen journalist Chen Qiushi. Photo / Supplied

Missing activists: Wuhan whistleblowers mysteriously disappear

Publish Date
Fri, 1 Oct 2021, 9:46AM

With more than 4.6 million people losing their lives to Covid-19 so far, there's no shortage of tragedy when it comes to this pandemic.

But perhaps one of the most brutal impacts of the virus has been the shocking disappearances of those who risked everything to spread the word in the early days of the outbreak, as Chinese authorities desperately tried to cover up the escalating crisis.

Sky's Sharri Markson tells some of these brave stories in her explosive new book, What Really Happened in Wuhan, highlighting just how far Beijing was prepared to go to keep the nightmare under wraps.

Chen Qiushi

Lawyer-turned-citizen journalist Chen Qiushi, 34, left his home in Beijing on January 24, 2020 as news of the virus was trickling through the nation.

He managed to catch the last train to Wuhan after the city was plunged into lockdown.

According to Markson, he was nervous about what his fate might be, given he had already attracted the ire of authorities – who shut down his WeChat account and banned him from leaving the country – for reporting on the Hong Kong protests of August 2019.

But still, he was determined to tell the truth about the virus from the frontline.

He had earlier spread awareness after authorities began boarding up Wuhan apartments, leaving residents trapped inside, in what Qiushi declared "illegal detention".

He also compared Covid-19 to SARS, and said in both examples, it was the "cover up of the truth and the block of information" which caused the catastrophe.

"If we spread the news and information faster than the virus does, then we can win this war," he said in the clip, which has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

Qiushi went straight to a string of Wuhan hospitals, recording the influx of patients and speaking with nurses about the illness, as well as the Huanan Seafood Market which was first linked to the outbreak.

In one of his last videos, Qiushi displayed an extraordinary level of defiance, directly challenging the Chinese Communist Party which he knew was already onto him.

"I am scared," he said in the infamous footage.

"I have the virus in front of me. Behind me is China's law enforcement. If I am still alive in this city, I will continue my report.

"F**k you, I'm not even scared of death. You think I'm scared of you, Chinese Communist Party?"

He vanished without a trace just days later, but thankfully, was released back to his parents after many months, although he remains under intense surveillance.

Li Zehua

Journalist Li Zehua was inspired by Qiushi's courageous stand, with the 25-year-old quitting his job and sneaking into Wuhan, later telling followers in a video that being in Wuhan was more frightening than North Korea.

"Now all the bad news about the epidemic has been collected by the central government. The local media can only report on good news," he said on February 12, 2020.

"They don't want us to know what we want to know."

Like Qiushi, he then takes to the streets, collecting first-hand evidence of the rising death toll – before deciding to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 26.

But there he is followed by officers in an unmarked car, with Zehua somehow managing to record his attempt to flee and post the clip online.

He makes it back to his hotel, and live streams as authorities thump on his door before leaving – only to return four hours later, prompting him to record his "final speech".

"It would be absolutely false if I say I'm not scared now. But what does it matter whether (I feel) fear or not? If they want to get me arrested they will do," he says.

"Before coming here, I had expected that I would eventually end up like him (Qiushi). But I didn't see it would come so fast."

He is then taken by police, disappearing for several months before re-emerging online.

Fang Bin

Businessman Fang Bin was yet another citizen who gambled with his life by telling the truth about the virus.

He began by sharing videos of piles of bodies on January 25, and on February 2 he revealed authorities had seized his laptop and interrogated him.

In his final video, he brandishes a roll of paper with characters which translate to the following chilling words: "Let all citizens resist! Power to the people!"

Unlike Qiushi and Zehua, Bin has not been seen or heard from since.

Sadly, these stories are far from unique, with many more vanishing after revealing inconvenient facts about the growing crisis.

According to Markson, there were a staggering 897 cases of Chinese citizens being punished for challenging China's propaganda about the pandemic between January and April 2020 alone.