A Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist has gone missing after his video reports from Wuhan about coronavirus went viral on platforms like Twitter and YouTube.
34-year-old Chen Qiushi previously gained traction on Chinese social media platforms like Weibo for reporting on peaceful protests in Hong Kong, but his Chinese social media accounts were deactivated after he was questioned by the Chinese government.
CNN reports Chen's friends and family have been able to access his accounts, and say police told them he was "detained in the name of quarantine," but have not confirmed his location.
Since Thursday night, friends and family of Chinese lawyer Chen Qiushi have been unable to reach him. They say the citizen journalist was forcibly quarantined by Wuhan police after disseminating viral video reports about coronavirus.
CNN reports that 34-year-old Chen's disappearance gained traction on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, at the same time that users expressed outrage over the death of the doctor Li Wenliang, another 34-year-old from northeast China who was reprimanded for spreading information about the Wuhan coronavirus to his medical school's alumni group chat at the onset of the outbreak.
Li later contracted coronavirus while treating patients in Wuhan and died on February 6, sparking outrage around the country. Academics have since signed open letters demanding that the Chinese government enforce its own freedom of speech protections in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, and hashtags demanding freedom of speech have trended on Weibo – and then been censored, CNN reports.
Simultaneously, Chen's reporting from Wuhan was going viral on platforms like Twitter, where he has nearly 250,000 followers, and YouTube, where he has more than 430,000 subscribers. Chen initially livestreamed himself on Weibo, but his profile was deactivated by Chinese officials after he reported on peaceful protests in Hong Kong in 2019.
A video Li uploaded to YouTube on January 29 featured himself describing a shortage of resources in the Wuhan as overwhelmed medical staff treated coronavirus patients. It has been viewed more than 2 million times.
Li visited Wuhan after the Chinese government-imposed lockdown quarantined its citizens, and he visited hospitals, funeral parlors, and isolation wards to speak with affected residents. He wore makeshift goggles and masks and described his precarious situation as "the virus in front of me and behind me China's law enforcement."
Li's friends and family have since been using his social media profiles to draw attention to his disappearance
At the outset of Wuhan coronavirus, doctors like Li described it as SARS-like. The virus has since become more deadly than SARS, with more than 800 people dead and at least 37,000 people infected globally.
After his viral Hong Kong broadcasts, Chen traveled to Wuhan in late January to do on-the-ground reporting. Chinese citizens are unable to access platforms like YouTube and Twitter, but many people use virtual private networks to access them. Previously, Chen had more than 740,000 Weibo followers, and promised he would continue to speak out.
Chen's friends and family have been able to access his social media accounts since his disappearance, using the login he left for them in case he lost access. His friends say they were checking in with him multiple times a day, and that the citizen journalist stopped answering calls Thursday night.
His mother and close friends have since uploaded videos saying that police in Qingdao, where Chen's family lives, notified his parents that Chen had been "detained in the name of quarantine." They have not released his location, Chen's friends and family say.
—陈秋实（陳秋實） (@chenqiushi404) February 6, 2020
Chen's close friend Xu Xiaodong, a mixed martial artist, says he believes Chen was in good health prior to his disappearance. Chen's friends are now worried for his physical safety and fear he could get infected by coronavirus.
On Weibo, news of Chen's disappearance is picking up traction. CNN reports that users with large followings are beginning to ask questions – but as Chen has stated before on his channel, his name is a sensitive topic, and Chinese citizens are discouraged from speaking about him online.