Covid Whistleblower and Falun Gong Practitioner, Fang Bin, Released After 3-Year Sentence

COVID-19 whistleblower Fang Bin in 2020.

COVID-19 whistleblower Fang Bin in 2020.

Fang Bin, a citizen journalist and Falun Gong practitioner who reported on the events in Wuhan during the first few months of the pandemic, was released from a three-year sentence on April 30, 2023.

While the Chinese government downplayed ongoing events, Fang provided video footage of overcrowded Wuhan hospitals and body bags outside.

Fang’s release came as a surprise, as there was no public knowledge of his sentence or sentence length. Sources reported he was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague charge frequently used to suppress freedom of expression and rights defenders. According to Taiwanese news outlet, Liberty Times Net, Fang was sentenced during a secret trial by the Jiang’an District Court in Wuhan. No official court documents have been made public.

Anonymous sources told Radio Free Asia that the Wuhan Public Security Bureau notified Fang Bin’s relatives in mid-April of Fang’s scheduled release. Fang Bin was indeed freed according to sources, however he is unable to speak with reporters and is still constantly under surveillance. His family members have been pressured not to take him in.

Police in Wuhan reportedly sent him to Beijing after his release, only to be returned by Beijing police. Fang is now wandering the streets of Wuhan.

After the first arrest in 2020 for his reporting, where six policemen showed up at his door in hazmat suits, police released Fang due to public backlash. Before releasing Fang, police warned him, “There should only be one voice, otherwise it will create chaos.”

After posting a final video on February 9, Fang disappeared. There were no updates about his status for nearly two years until reports emerged in November 2021 that Fang was detained in Jiang’an Detention Center.

Fang Bin’s case is only one example of the CCP’s suppression of free expression. At least ten other Falun Gong practitioners were arrested for acting as citizen journalist during the pandemic.

On July 19, 2020, Xu Na was arrested alongside ten other citizen journalists in Beijing for publishing photos online of Beijing. Their lawyers were denied certain rights protected by Chinese law, including copying and requesting court documents, as well as being present during important case proceedings. She was indicted on April 2, 2021 and detained at Beijing Women’s Prison until her sentencing on January 14, 2022. She was then sentenced to eight years in prison.

Ms. Xu Na, one of eleven incarcerated citizen journalists who practice Falun Gong.

Xu’s exact whereabouts are unknown, though it is likely she is still being held at Beijing Women’s Prison. The U.S. Department of State, Freedom House, and others have called for Xu’s immediate release.

Xu has been persecuted multiple times in the past for her civil disobedience efforts related to Falun Gong. In 2001, she was sentenced to 5 years in prison and endured torture at Beijing Women’s Prison. She was held in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep, prohibited from bathing, and denied visits. In 2008, Xu and her husband, Yu Zhou, were detained before the 2008 Olympics. Guards at Beijing City Tongzhou District Detention Center tortured her husband to death within two weeks of his detention.