Chinese ‘citizen journalist’ who shared Covid info in 2020 to be freed after 3 years


HONG KONG: Chinese authorities were preparing on Sunday to release a man who disappeared three years ago after publicising videos of overcrowded hospitals and bodies during the Covid outbreak, a relative and another person familiar with his case said.
Fang Bin and other members of the public who were dubbed citizen journalists posted details of the pandemic in early 2020 on the internet, embarrassing Chinese officials who faced criticism for failing to control the outbreak. The last video Fang, a seller of traditional Chinese clothing, posted on Twitter was of a piece of paper reading, “All citizens resist, hand power back to the people. ” Fang’s case is part of Beijing’s crackdown on criticism of China’s early handling of the pandemic, as the ruling Communist Party seeks to control the narrative of the country. He was scheduled to be released Sunday, according to two people who did not want to be identified for fear of government retribution.
One of them said Fang was sentenced to three years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague charge traditionally used against political dissidents. AP could not independently confirm his release and could not confirm the details with the authorities. Two offices of Wuhan’s public security bureau did not provide a phone number of their information office or answer any questions. Phone calls to a court that reportedly sentenced Fang rang unanswered on Sunday afternoon. A woman from another court that had reportedly handled Fang’s appeal said she was not authorised to answer questions.
In early 2020, the initial Covid outbreak devastated the city of Wuhan, home to 11 million residents, in central China’s Hubei province. Under a 76-day lockdown, its streets were deserted for months, apart from ambulances and security personnel. Another citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan, who also had reported on the early stage of the outbreak, was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of picking fights and provoking trouble in December 2020.


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