Citizen journalist Fang Bin, who disappeared for three years after filming from hospitals and funeral homes early in the COVID-19 pandemic from the city of Wuhan, had been sentenced in secret to three years in prison, Radio Free Asia has learned.
Fang went incommunicado after a Feb. 1, 2020, livestream from Wuhan healthcare facilities, and made a couple more videos in the days that followed about his interrogation by police, before falling silent for three years, with no news of his fate.
He was among a number of high-profile bloggers who tried to report on the emerging and little-understood viral outbreak from Wuhan. His report also described the pandemic as a “man-made” disaster, calling on people to resist government “tyranny.”
Fang’s family was notified by police that he will be released from prison on April 30, said a person familiar with the case who declined to be identified for reasons of personal safety.
“Fang Bin was sentenced in secret by the Jiang’an District People’s Court to more than three years’ imprisonment,” the person said. “The family hasn’t received any legal documents or a copy of the judgment, however … and they don’t know the nature of the charges.”
Fang had served his sentence in the Xiaojunshan former juvenile correctional center in Wuhan’s Jiangxia district, the source said.
“He may have been held in solitary confinement for more than three years,” the person said.
The presiding judge who sentenced Fang, surnamed Lian, declined to comment when contacted by the person to enquire about the case, saying only: “How dare you ask about this kind of thing?” before hanging up, the source said.
“Friends of the family have said Fang Bin will likely go to live with his relatives after his release, and the police told the family to prepare for that,” the person said.
‘Disaster of the century’
Wuhan resident Wang Xiaohua said Fang had reported on “the disaster of the century” through his live-streamed video reports to the rest of the world during the Wuhan lockdown.
Fang had been reporting from the Wuhan No. 5 Hospital and a funeral home in Wuchang, part of the three-city conurbation that makes up Wuhan, at the time, and watched staff move out eight dead bodies in the space of five minutes, his video report showed.
“He was the first to make a video saying publicly that the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule had given rise to the outbreak,” Wang said. “He launched a nationwide citizen journalism effort, and let people see the dead bodies in the hospital, counting them, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight — it was shocking.”
Fang’s disappearance came a few days after the detention of another citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, who had been interviewing people around the new mega hospitals being thrown up at great speed in Wuhan.
Fellow citizen journalist Kcriss Li continued reporting from the scene for a few more weeks after that, until his dramatic, live-streamed chase by police on Feb. 26.
Lawyer-turned-reporter Zhang Zhan was detained and taken back to Shanghai, where there are ongoing concerns about her health in prison following months of on-off hunger-striking and forced feeding.
The U.S. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China called for Fang’s release in its annual report last November, along with all those detained for reporting on the pandemic in China.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.