Dr. Ai Fen, China's COVID-19 Wistleblower "Disappears" After Slamming Her Government
“A river. A bridge. A road. A clock chime”, this was the eerily enigmatic message of Dr. Ai Fen, a whistleblower of the now pandemic coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Dr. Ai Fen had written this post on Weibo, a Twitter like social media platform following her disappearance last month. Many believe she is being held involuntarily by her government after an interview where she publicly discredited many of the government's claims about the initial response to the coronavirus outbreak. Since the interview, she has made no public appearances, and no one has been able to verify her safety, yet her weibo account remains eerily active, leading some to presume her posts are under the guise of the government. Yet, this doctor is just one of the thousands who have disappeared at the hand of the Chinese Communist Party, as it is estimated that at least 16 lawyers, politicians, human rights activists, or public figures will disappear every day from with inside its borders.
Outside its borders, few people are aware of these state sanctioned kidnappings, as they rarely make international headlines unless the “disappeared” happens to be a foreigner or internationally recognized celebrity. However, it’s no secret amongst its citizens that these disappearances are the very real consequences of vocally opposing its government or leadership, with these dissidents not only endangering the lives of themselves, but also their families, friends, and business associates.
China’s National Supervision Commission oversees these detentions called “liuzhi”, which are tantamount to state sponsored terrorism, with the commission operating outside of its normal judicial system, and therefore operating on its own accord. This level intimidation in combination with the NSC’s unbridled authority is often enough to keep its massive population of 1.4 billion toeing the Party’s line. Nevertheless, as the level of paranoia grows within the Communist Party’s leadership, merely voicing objectively bad news or an unfavorable opinion may be enough to justify your disappearance from society, as was evident with the case for Ai Fen, the head doctor at the Wuhan Hospital Emergency department who went missing last week.
Dr. Ai Fen’s disappearance follows after an interview in March with China’s People magazine where she publicly stated in a redacted article that the Wuhan government had tried to silence her from warning the world about a new virus that was spreading in Wuhan back in December 2019; this virus would come to be known globally as COVID-19. At the time, Dr. Ai Fen thought she was seeing another outbreak of the deadly SARS virus, as both coronaviruses have similar symptoms. Dr. Ai Fen shared her findings and a picture of a patient exhibiting these SARS-like symptoms to a group chat that was comprised of other doctors. One of those doctors, Dr. Li Wenliang made the information public, warning doctors, professionals and the general public of a SARS-like virus that was spreading in the community.
Instead of acting on this information and possibly preventing a worldwide pandemic, the Chinese government had both doctors taken into police custody for spreading “malicious rumors”. Following their release, Dr. Li Wenliang later contracted COVID-19, and succumbed to the illness on February 7th, 2020. As for Dr. Ai Fen, no one has been able to verify her whereabout since her March interview with China’s People magazine, although her Weibo account is active again; people remain skeptic as to who is actually making the posts. Both doctors have been recognized as martyrs in their country where Dr. Ai Fen is has received the name "The Whistlegiver" an Dr. Li Wenliang is remembered as "The Wistleblower". In a cruel twist of irony, this week China was appointed a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, where it “..will play a key role in picking the world body’s human rights investigators — including global monitors on freedom of speech, health, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention”.