Several citizen journalists were detained in the early days of China’s coronavirus outbreak. Two of them are still under strict government surveillance.
As China gradually emerges from the pandemic that so far has taken more than one million lives across the world, two Chinese citizen journalists are still under government surveillance. However, their friends have shared new details about their status with DW.
Prominent Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist Chen Qiushi went to cover the situation in Wuhan soon after the city went into total lockdown in late January. He interviewed frontline medical staff and citizens in the city while it was cut off from the rest of the world.
Chen uploaded dozens of videos onto his Youtube channel and offered some rare insights to the situation in Wuhan. However, he disappeared on February 6 and the world began to pay attention to his story. His friends also used his Twitter account to raise awareness.
Chen was one of the recipients of DW’s Freedom of Speech Award in May for his coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. On September 17, Chen’s friend Xu Xiao-dong, a prominent Chinese Youtuber, shared new details about Chen’s status in a video. Xu guaranteed that Chen is healthy and has never experienced any illness during his disappearance.
“Qiushi is still under government surveillance, but he is not in Wuhan or Hubei Province,” Xu said in the video. “Officials have gathered all the evidence about him, including his bank accounts and his relationship with individuals abroad. So far information I’ve gathered indicates that he will not be prosecuted.” In another video on September 21, Xu said Chen was at a safe location and he enjoyed a certain degree of personal freedom. “Chen Qiushi is still the same person, but it is unlikely for everyone to hear from him until next year,” Xu said.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported on September 24 that a human rights lawyer said Chen was living with his parents in Qingdao at the time. The lawyer pointed out that since the Chinese government didn’t plan to prosecute him, it is illegal for them to keep Chen under strict surveillance.
Zhang Zhan is not planning to plead guilty
The other citizen journalist currently in detention, Zhang Zhan, began to document the situation in Wuhan in February, as she uploaded videos of herself explaining her conversation with local people in the Tcity.
Zhang complained to friends about being followed by strangers in early May, and lost contact with them on May 14. On May 15, the hotel she was staying told her friends that she had checked out. On the same day, police in Shanghai brought her luggage to her parents’ house. She was later detained at a detention facility in Shanghai under the charges of picking quarrels and provoking trouble.
Ren Quan-Nue, a human rights lawyer hired by Zhang’s mom, tried to apply for visiting rights twice in September, but both times, police at the detention center rejected his application. He told DW that one of Zhang’s former cellmates told him that Zhang had been putting up a hunger strike since the beginning of summer and staff at the detention center would force-feed her as she refused to eat or drink anything.
“Her cellmate said her protests were pretty intense in the first two to three months, and she has been refusing to plead guilty to the charges imposed on her,” Ren said.
Zhang is determined to continue the hunger strike
A source told DW that Zhang’s lawyer finally met her on September 28. She reportedly lost a lot of weight but still maintains a normal mental state. Even though Zhang’s family wanted her to stop the hunger strike, Zhang said she wouldn’t give up so easily.
“She still refuses to eat and the detention center has had to arrange two to three people to force-feed her porridge or other watery food,” the source said. Zhang still insists that she is innocent and she plans to remain silent when her trial begins. However, her legal team reportedly thinks it is a bad strategy to use silence as a form of protest.
“They are worried that she won’t have the strength to sit through a trial, so her lawyers want to convince her to end the hunger strike,” the source told DW. “However, Zhang has a very strong will so whether she will follow her lawyers' suggestion or not remains unclear.”
The source said it’s likely that the trial can start soon. “If they don’t start the trial in October, her case could potentially be postponed to next July or August, which will be another ten months.”