State Broadcaster-Turned-Citizen Journalist Incommunicado in Virus-Hit Wuhan


2020-02-27
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china-li-zehua-wuhan-video-feb-2020.jpg A screenshot from a video taken by citizen journalist Li Zehua to document developments of the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Feb. 26, 2020.
Li Zehua/YouTube

Li Zehua's apparent detention comes amid reports of a comprehensive cover-up of early research into the COVID-19 coronavirus.

State Broadcaster-Turned-Citizen Journalist Incommunicado in Virus-Hit Wuhan

A former news anchor with China's state broadcaster CCTV who quit his job to report from the front line of the coronavirus epidemic in the central province of Hubei is incommunicado, believed detained.

Li Zehua, who had quit his state-approved job at the behemoth broadcaster to dedicate himself to telling the truth about the epidemic via YouTube, went suddenly off air for the last time on Wednesday after reporting being followed.

"I'm suddenly being chased down by the state security police. The car they're driving isn't a police car," Li tells the camera after being hassled and obstructed for days by local officials and security guards as he traveled around Wuhan reporting on the epidemic, including the round-the-clock operation of crematoriums in the city.

"They're chasing me, so I can't livestream any more. I will just have to leave you with this clip," Li says. "I'm in Wuhan right now. I'm driving really fast because they're chasing me."

"I'm sure that they want to hold me in isolation. Please help me!" he says.

Later, Li returned to where he was staying, but there was a knock at the door, and he eventually allowed the people outside to come in, and the camera was abruptly turned off. He had earlier claimed that the source of the virus was the P4 laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Li saw himself as the willing successor of previous citizen journalists who have since disappeared from Wuhan after reporting on the harsh reality of the epidemic for millions of the city's residents.

Citizen journalist Fang Bin has stopped reporting since he was detained by police, while Chen Qiushi is incommunicado, believed detained.

In one of Li's early videos, he says: "If one Chen Qiushi falls, 10 million more Chen Qiushi's will stand up to take his place."

A veteran journalist surnamed Zhang said Li is 25 years old, and likely has yet to become disillusioned by journalism in China.

"He may be young ... but he has a very clear head," Zhang said. But he said he wasn't optimistic about the outcome for Li.

"Zhao Kezhi, minister for public security, has just made a speech saying that political stability must be prioritized above everything else, so I don't think that bodes well for his situation there in Wuhan," he said.

Li, a recent graduate of the Jiaotong University, resigned his job as on-air talent on CCTV-7, and starting reporting from Wuhan on Feb. 16.

Report on cover-up

A recent report by cutting-edge news organization Caixin showed that officials ordered that samples and papers linked to the discovery of COVID-19 be destroyed, citing a Wuhan Health Commission directive dated Jan. 1.

The existence and characteristics of the virus were shared with a number of public health bodies and health commissions at regional and national level.

It said Hubei hospitals, health officials, disease control centers (CDCs), and district governments all directly participated in the cover-up, ensuring that earlier findings didn't make their way into the hands of a task-force of health experts sent by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's central leadership in Beijing.

Members of the expert group told Caixin that it was the lack of precisely this lack of information that led them to conclude that the virus wasn't being transmitted from person to person.

Two reports were published on the cover-up by Caixin and sister-site Caijing, but have since been deleted.

A former Communist Party official surnamed Cao told RFA that the order to suppress the information must have come from the highest echelons of leadership for it to be so uniformly suppressed by so many departments.

President Xi Jinping has previously said that he personally directed the response to the coronavirus epidemic from its early stages.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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