A Chinese citizen journalist who chronicled desperate scenes from the virus-stricken city of Wuhan has been detained by police, according to his friends.
Fang Bin, a Wuhan resident, has been targeted by local authorities since he started sharing video footage on Chinese social media, taken at hospitals in the city, which has been on lockdown since early January. A video he took, showing eight dead bodies inside a funeral home van that was parked near a hospital, recently went viral.
⚠️WARNING: Graphic content#Wuhan Insider Secretly Records Inside #WuhanHospital, Finds Dead Bodies#CoronavirusOutbreak: After counting the body bags and then entering the hospital, he comes back out to find more dead bodies. pic.twitter.com/tsPNU9b3BR
— The Epoch Times – China Insider (@EpochTimesChina) February 3, 2020
He was taken from his home by local police at roughly 3 p.m. local time on Feb. 10, according to his friends, after local fire department personnel pried open the door. The police also took away several boxes from his home.
Local artist Hua Yong also confirmed Fang’s detention on Feb. 10. While speaking on his YouTube channel, Hua said that the order to arrest Fang came from the public security bureau.
The Epoch Times tried to call Fang multiple times, but no one answered his phone.
When this outlet reached several local police stations in Wuhan, they responded that they had no knowledge of Fang or his situation.
One of his friends told The Epoch Times he suspected that the internet connection to Fang’s home and cellphone was cut off prior to his detention, because Fang did not upload a new video in the morning of Feb. 10. Fang usually uploads a video every morning, saying he is safe and sound.
This is not the first time he was detained.
On Feb. 1, at around 7 p.m. local time, half a dozen masked men, claiming to be medical officers on duty, broke into Fang’s home to “take his temperature.” They took away two computers and his cellphone. Fang ended up at a local police station.
He was eventually released on Feb. 2 and got his cellphone back.
Fang said in a later video that the police accused him of taking money from “foreign forces” and threatened to place him in quarantine for “creating fear” with his videos.
He believes that the outbreak in Wuhan is, at least in part, a “man-made disaster.”
Chinese state-run media has warned people not to “spread fake information” about the coronavirus, for they could be in violation of Article 291 of China’s Criminal Law.
According to China’s official government website, a section of Article 291 states that anyone found fabricating and spreading false information on an epidemic, disaster, or police activity, can be sentenced to three to seven years in prison.
However, Chinese authorities have used the law to silence people who publish valuable information about the virus, most notably the recent case involving doctor Li Wenliang.
Li, an ophthalmologist, was one of eight doctors who first publicized information about an “unknown pneumonia” outbreak on Chinese social media on Dec. 30 last year. A day later, the Wuhan Health Commission confirmed the outbreak.
On Jan. 3, Li was summoned to a local police station, where he was reprimanded for “rumor-mongering.” He was also forced to sign a statement saying he won’t commit any more “unlawful acts.”
Li died of the coronavirus in Wuhan in the morning on Feb. 7, after being diagnosed with the virus five days earlier. He contracted the virus after unknowingly treating an infected person.
Also on Feb. 7, Amnesty International’s regional director Nicholas Bequelin said that Li’s death highlights “human rights failings” in China.
“The case of Li Wenliang is a tragic reminder of how the Chinese authorities’ preoccupation with maintaining ‘stability’ drives it to suppress vital information about matters of public interest,” Bequelin said in a statement.
“China must learn the lesson from Li’s case and adopt a rights-respecting approach to combating the epidemic. Nobody should face harassment or sanctions for speaking out about public dangers, just because it may cause embarrassment to the government.”