Three whistle-blowers who tried to inform the world about the true scale of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan are still missing two months after vanishing from the public sight.
The whereabouts of Chen Qiushi, Fang Bing and Li Zehua have been a mystery since February, and Chinese officials have not publicly commented on them.
The three citizen journalists had sought to expose the true scale of the outbreak from the then epicentre by uploading videos to YouTube and Twitter, both banned in mainland China.
All of the coronavirus whistle-blowers’ dispatches revealed a grim side of Wuhan unseen on state-run Chinese media outlets.
Chen, 34, has not been heard from since 7pm local time on February 6.
He arrived in Wuhan just before the city went into lockdown in hopes of providing the world with the truth of the epidemic, as he said himself.
His reports detailed horrific scenes including a woman frantically calling family on her phone as she sits next to a relative lying dead in a wheelchair and the helpless situation of patients in the overstretched hospitals.
He had been planning to visit a ‘fang cang’ makeshift hospital before evaporating.
His disappearance was revealed by a post on his Twitter account, which has been managed by a friend authorised to speak on his behalf.
His mother has posted a video calling for his safe return.
The latest post on his Twitter, posted on Wednesday, read: ‘Who can tell us where and how Chen Qiushi is right now? When will anyone get to speak with him again? Chen Qiushi has been out of contact for 68 days after covering coronavirus in Wuhan. Please save him!!!’
Fang Bin, a Wuhan resident, went missing on February 9 after releasing a series of videos, including one showing piles of bodies being loaded into a bus.
He had been arrested arrested briefly before disappearing, it is alleged.
His last video showed hazmat-donning officers knocking on his door to measure his body temperature.
Fang is seen in the video trying to fend off the officers by telling them his temperature is normal, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Li Zehua, 25, is the youngest of the three and the most high-profile reporter.
A former employee of state broadcaster CCTV, Li was reporting from Wuhan independently. He was said to be last heard on February 26.
Before that, he had visited a series of sensitive venues in Wuhan, such as the community that held a huge banquet despite the epidemic and the crematorium which was hiring extra staff to help carry corpses, RFA added.
The news outlet said Li was likely targeted by secret police after visiting the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The £34million institute has been at the centre of conspiracy theories, which suggest that the killer virus originated there.
A US congressman recently called on the State Department to urge China to investigate the disappearance of the three journalists.
In a letter dated March 31, Republican Representative Jim Banks asked the US government to seek a probe into the fates of Chen, Fang and Li.
‘All three of these men understood the personal risk associated with independently reporting on coronavirus in China, but they did it anyway,’ Banks wrote, alleging that the Chinese government ‘imprisoned them – or worse’.
Chen, Fang and Li were among several Chinese citizens who were believed to be punished for speaking out about the pandemic.
Another coronavirus whistle-blowers, Ren Zhiqiang, a tycoon and prominent Communist party member, went missing after calling President Xi a ‘clown’ over his handling of the crisis.
The 69-year-old is being investigated on suspicion of a ‘severe violation of discipline and law’, a Chinese authority said last week.
An outspoken activist, also a coronavirus whistle-blower, who openly called Chinese President Xi ‘not clever enough’ and demanded the leader step down over ‘the coronavirus catastrophe’ could be facing months of torture in secret detention, human rights groups have warned.
Xu Zhiyong, a former law lecturer, has allegedly been charged with ‘inciting state subversion’ after being detained on February 15.
The 47-year-old is being kept in a classified location and at ‘serious risk’ of torture and ill-treatment, according to experts.
Ai Fen, a Wuhan doctor who was among the first to alert other medics about the spread of coronavirus was also thought to be detained, reports suggest.
The ER doctor said she was safe and working in a short video uploaded to her social media account on Monday.