A Chinese citizen journalist who disappeared in February while reporting on China’s early response to the coronavirus in Wuhan has been found, a friend has reported, revealing the young man had been detained by Chinese authorities.

Chen Qiushi, a former lawyer turned citizen journalist, had been reporting from the streets and hospitals of Wuhan since 23 January and his disappearance prompted accusations the Chinese government was rounding up journalists and whistleblowers. Chinese authorities gave no details of his whereabouts or condition, but his mother said shortly after he disappeared that he’d been forcibly quarantined.

In livestreamed YouTube videos, Chen’s friend and mixed-martial arts star Xu Xiaodong said Chen was “in good health” but was still under supervision by a “certain government department” in Qindao, Shandong, despite authorities saying he would not be prosecuted.

Xu said authorities had determined there would be no prosecution “for the time being”, after investigations in China, Hong Kong and Japan found Qiushi had not sought to incite anyone or been in touch with overseas opposition groups.

There are conflicting reports as to whether Qiushi is now in detention, living with his parents under supervision, or under surveillance at a designated location – a form of secretive Chinese detention that allows authorities to hold a person for six months without charge. A friend of Chen’s, contacted for the Guardian, said they were sure only that Chen was not free.

Chen was one of several citizen journalists arrested by authorities after reporting on the Wuhan outbreak. Li Zehua, who travelled to Wuhan to report after Chen’s disappearance, went missing in early February but was released in April. Fang Bin, a Wuhan resident, went missing at the same time but has not been seen since. Internet users rallied around the missing journalists, in particular Chen, who was taken on the same day that whistleblower doctor, Li Wenliang, died of Covid-19.

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The Chinese Communist party (CCP), led by the president, Xi Jinping, has taken an increasingly hard line against opposition and dissident voices. This week Ren Zhiqiang, a former real estate tycoon and Xi critic, was sentenced to 18 years in jail for corruption, a charge rights groups say the CCP uses to silence dissent. Ren was put under investigation in April for “serious violations of discipline and the law”, just weeks after he went missing following the publication of an essay in which he suggested Xi was a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Additional reporting by Lillian Yang



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