Coronavirus: Citizen journalists disappearing following criticism of Chinese government

Coronavirus: Citizen journalists disappearing following criticism of Chinese government

Chen Qiushi is a Wuhan-based lawyer who has been regularly covering the coronavirus outbreak in China, regularly criticizing the governemtn for their handling of the pandemic. He is now missing.

The coronavirus has reportedly killed more than 1000 Chinese residents since the outbreak of a new coronavirus, restricting travel and forcing the quarantines. The Chinese government is under immense pressure to solve the crisis, and scientists are racing to find a way to contain the unnamed virus before it has global repercussions. In another disturbing, yet not altogether surprising, turn of events, persons who have been critical of the government’s handling of the virus outbreak are starting to disappear.

Many Chinese residents have taken to social media to document how the virus is effecting their communities and how those communities are effected by the government. Chen Qiushi is one of those citizens, a lawyer who has been at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan. He started posting about the virus on January 25 after the Chinese government locked the city down in order to contain the virus. Chen Qiushi’s remarks regarding the government and its handling of the outbreak have been—in a word—critical, citing lack of medical supplies, crowded hospitals, and accusing the Chinese government of incompetence and suppressing freedom of speech in discourse regarding the pandemic.

Chen Qiushi’s latest update was last Thursday, February 6, and no one has heard from him since. In a recent tweet, Chen’s friend Xu Xiaodong, stated that Chen has been “taken away to quarantine by force.” He went on to say that Chen has not had access to his personal cell phone. This is interesting, because Chen’s Twitter account still appears to be active despite his disappearance.  In a statement released by the Human Rights Watch, they stated that friends and family have applied for an audience to speak with Chen, but their queries have not been returned.

Another Chinese “citizen journalist” has also gone missing, just days after the disappearance of Chen Qiushi. Fang Bin, a Wuhan-based businessman, has also been documenting the devastation in his community via social media. He had reportedly dared the Chinese government to come seize him for his comments regarding their handling of the virus on the same day that he posted a 12-second video of a paper that read “resist all citizens, hand the power of the government back to the people.” Authorities used the fire brigade to break down his door and arrest him. 

In China, government focus appears to be split between containing the spread of the virus, and controlling the narrative surrounding the containment. Yaqui Wang, a Cinhese researcher for Human Rights Watch, commented on the government’s repeated pattern of censoring or controlling narratives that concern disasters or pandemics, “authorities are as equally, if not more, concerned with silencing criticism as with containing the spread of the coronavirus.”

American watchdog organizations and lawmakers have called for the Chinese government to account for Chen Qiushi’s and Fang Bin’s whereabouts. Steven Butler, the program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists stated, “Authorities in Wuhan must disclose whether they are holding journalist Chen Qiushi. If they are, then he should be released immediately. China does not seem to have learned the clear lesson that bottling up the truth about a spreading illness will only make matters worse.”  

J.J. Vallow & Tylee Ryan: UPDATE

J.J. Vallow & Tylee Ryan: UPDATE

J.J. Vallow & Tylee Ryan

For the past two weeks, the true-crime world has had its eyes fixated on missing minors, Joshua “J.J.” Vallow and Tylee Ryan, and the mysterious string of deaths that preceded their disappearance. This case of missing children has already taken so many unexpected turns, leaving family, friends, and journalists alike wondering what disturbing new detail will emerge yet.

The last confirmed sighting of J.J. was back in September of 2019, when his mother, Lori Vallow pulled him out of public school, citing a new job offer out of state that would require her to move her children as well. It was not entirely unexpected, as Vallow also cited the recent death of J.J.’s father as another reason why their family life remained in flux. What she failed to mention was the fact that J.J.’s father, Charles Vallow, had been murdered the previous July when her own brother, Alex Cox, shot Charles in self-defense. She swiftly remarried a man named Chad Daybell, who had also recently lost his spouse, Tammy Daybell. Both Charles Vallow and Tammy Daybell’s deaths are currently being investigated as “suspicious” by respective law enforcement agencies. Lori Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, also died in the weeks following the shooting death of her husband, but his cause of death has yet to be released.

This spinning vortex of death and loss was further compounded by the noticeable absence of 17-year-old Tylee and 7-year-old J.J. It wasn’t until one of their grandparents called authorities requesting a welfare check that a missing persons investigation was launched. Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell fled the area following the execution of the search warrant and were finally tracked down in late January on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Vallow was instructed to produce her children by January 30th or face criminal charges. January 30th came and went, and still no word from J.J. or Tylee.

Now, additional warrants executed by authorities have revealed another disturbing detail. According to the EastIdahoNews, investigators have discovered a storage locker in Rexburg, Idaho listed in Lori Vallow’s name. The storage locker contained items that law enforcement strongly believe belonged to the two children, including photo albums, bicycles, scooters, and winter clothing.

Seventeen-year-old Tylee’s cell phone was also found in Lori Vallow’s possession when authorities finally tracked them down in Hawaii, without their missing children. Police were able to determine that the phone had been used several times since September when the children were last seen, though it is difficult to say by whom.

J.J.’s autism required the use of a service dog, primarily for sleeping soundly through the night. A dog trainer based in Arizona has come forward with startling information, “I was surprised and shocked when I got the call from Lori that she needed to re-home the dog.” Her only explanation was that her husband had recently passed and the family was moving to Idaho.

J.J. is described as a white male with brown hair and brown eyes, standing at 4′0″ and weighing 50 pounds. He also goes by J.J. and may be in need of medical attention. Tylee is described as a white female with blonde hair and blue eyes, standing at 5′0″ and weighing 160 pounds.

Anyone with information about the children is asked to call Rexburg police at 208-359-3000 or report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.