Since the Covid-19 outbreak in the first months of 2020, the Chinese regime has escalated its silencing of the press and social media and arrested at least ten journalists and commentators who reported on the crisis. Seven of them remain detained or missing to this day, namely: Zhang Zhan, Ren Zhiqiang, Guo Quan, Cai Wei, Chen Mei, Chen Qiushi, and Fang Bin.
“Informing the public on this unprecedented health crisis is not a crime! These journalists should never have been arrested”, says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau head, who urges for their immediate release and calls on the international community “to increase pressure on the Beijing regime in order for it to release all jailed journalists in China and put an end to censorship”.
Of the seven journalists and commentators detained for reporting on Covid-19, only two have been tried and convicted:
- Former lawyer-turned-journalist Zhang Zhan, 37, was sentenced to four years in prison on 28th December 2020 on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for reporting live from the city of Wuhan during the Covid-19 outbreak.
- Political commentator Ren Zhiqiang, 69, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on 22nd September 2020 on alleged corruption charges after he highlighted the failures of the regime in their handling of the pandemic.
- Political commentator Guo Quan, 52, has been detained since 31st January in the city of Nanjing on the alleged charges of “subversion of state power'' after reporting online on the Covid-19 outbreak.
- Press freedom defenders Cai Wei and Chen Mei, both 27, were arrested on 19th April on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after they reposted censored Covid-19 news articles and are awaiting their trial, scheduled for April 2021.
- Freelance journalist Chen Qiushi, 35, was forcibly quarantined on 6th February 2020 after posting videos on his blog revealing the chaos in the Wuhan hospitals and is believed to still be detained to this day.
- Businessman-turned-journalist Fang Bin went missing on 9th February after reporting on hospital oversaturation in the city of Wuhan and is believed to be detained although his whereabouts have not been disclosed by the regime.
The Chinese regime, which has launched a global disinformation campaign to deflect criticism, is the world’s biggest captor of journalists with at least 119 press freedom defenders detained. China is ranked 177th out of 180 in the 2020 RSF World Press Freedom Index.