The authorities are struggling to silence the many critical voices questioning the government’s management of the coronavirus crisis as the pandemic continues to spread around the world. On March 12th, political commentator and real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, disappeared after denouncing the regime's shortcomings and is said by his relatives to be currently detained in the vicinity of Beijing, according to some acquaintances. Last month, three journalists and two other commentators were arrested for publishing information relating to the epidemic.
"By knowingly pursuing its policy of censorship and repression, despite its clear contribution to the spread of the virus, the Chinese regime shows that it has not learned from the crisis,” says Cédric Alviani, director of the East Asia office of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who calls on Beijing to “immediately release Ren Zhiqiang and all other journalists and commentators in jail.”
On March 10th, the latest edition of the Chinese magazine People, an affiliate of the People’s Daily, was withdrawn due to an interview in which the director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, Ai Fen, criticized the censorship imposed on doctors. The website of the English-language newspaper China Daily, for its part, also censored an article published on February 28th in which the famous epidemiologist Zhang Wenhong expressed doubts that the virus could have been imported from abroad.
On March 1st, the entry into force of an even more repressive internet regulation allowed Beijing to intensify pressure on social media. According to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders, more than 450 Internet users have been detained or punished since the beginning of the year for sharing information on the coronavirus described by the authorities as “false rumors.
The current coronavirus pandemic worldwide has already caused more than 9,000 deaths and affected more than 220,000 people.
China ranks 177th out of 180 in the 2019 RSF World Press Freedom Index.