News World China’s coronavirus response: Alarm sounds over mysterious disappearances
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China’s coronavirus response: Alarm sounds over mysterious disappearances

The coronavirus death toll looks likely to surpass that of the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. Photo: AP
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As of Thursday morning, world health leaders are aware of 44,730 people infected with coronavirus in China alone.

Recent cases outside the epicentre include an Australian teenager who is reportedly among the 40 latest confirmed patients to have come from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship.

At least 1114 people have been killed.

On top of that, another kind of virus victim has emerged: Those who speak out about the truth.

It’s emerged that people who have spoken about what is going on under Communist rule during the virus outbreak have suddenly disappeared.

Others have faced ominous warnings by police who suddenly show up at their door.

Reports from Wuhan suggest the Chinese Communist Party is working hard to silence citizens and bury the truth about the disease, human rights groups warn.

It means the death toll could be far higher than the rest of the world is hearing.

Citizen journalists go missing

Over the past few weeks, Chinese citizens Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin have been broadcasting information about the coronavirus outbreak on social media.

Popular social media sites are banned in China, so it’s likely the pair used a virtual private network (VPN) to post their content (a popular choice for tech-savvy citizens wanting to bypass the country’s strict media controls).

Many of their videos feature distressing scenes of untreated corpses, body bags being thrown into vans and authorities dragging people kicking and screaming from their homes.

The New Daily has not been able to verify the authenticity of those videos, but human rights organisations have confirmed they are aware of the cases of missing people and arrests.

Authorities are reportedly using quarantine as an excuse to interrogate people.

Within hours of posting a video on Twitter showing dead bodies piling up outside a Wuhan hospital, Fang said a group of masked men wearing hazmat suits appeared at his door.

“You’ve been to dangerous places,” they reportedly told him.

“We have to find out whether you are infected or not.”

 

On Monday afternoon, authorities reportedly surrounded Fang’s apartment and knocked down his door.

The shopkeeper has not been seen since.

Lawyer Chen, 34, went missing on Thursday and has not been seen since.

Last week, millions of Chinese mourned the death of Dr Li Wenliang, who had tried to warn fellow doctors about the coronavirus in late December but was silenced by police in Wuhan and warned about talking up again.

The New Daily spoke to one Wuhan man, whose elderly parents are both infected, after he had posted criticism of the government’s reaction online.

Just 24 hours later he was visited by police and told to delete the post.

Patrick Poon, a China researcher at human rights organisation Amnesty International, said he was aware of “more and more people being taken away after posting information about the outbreak”.

“This is a typical way for the Chinese government to curb freedom of speech, especially during a crisis like this,” Mr Poon told The New Daily from Hong Kong.

He said the regime was becoming increasingly worried about the impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s economy, international reputation and its ability to control the population.

“We can’t trust the number of cases issued by the Chinese government – they would never give us the real figure,” he said.

Last month, a High Court in the northern Heilongjiang province issued a notice threatening citizens with up to 15 years’ jail if they “spread rumours” about the epidemic.

Mr Poon described Chen as a high-profile “social media influencer” who was “targeted” because he interviewed sick people in hospital and filmed corpses.

Chinese-Australians have told The New Daily that many citizens on the mainland “wanted to tell the truth, but it’s not allowed”.

China is ranked among the worst in the world for press freedom – right behind Eritrea and North Korea, according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Index.

Last year, China locked up at least 48 journalists for doing their job, more than any other country including Turkey, a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

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