Chinese journalist Li Zehua, who formerly worked for state broadcaster CCTV and goes by the name Kcriss Li, was held by authorities for reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak from Wuhan in early 2020.
In a new interview with CPJ’s China correspondent Iris Hsu and Director of Special Projects Robert Mahoney, Li said that he wishes he had done more.
At the start of the outbreak in Wuhan, Li managed to evade Chinese officials and interview some of the city’s 12 million residents, who had not been told the truth about COVID-19.
He found communities frustrated by hastily imposed restrictions on movement and migrant workers who could not find work. He even made it to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the government laboratory at the heart of speculation about the origin of the disease. He posted it all online, angering the Chinese Communist Party.
Li explained how he felt on February 26, 2020, when officers showed up at his door to arrest him: “I felt very disappointed and sad…My thought was, ‘Come on. We are in a so-called democratic country in the 21st century. What have I done? Am I a criminal?’”
Now living in exile, Li wishes he had gone better prepared, had better equipment, and been able to report more fully on what was to become a once-in-a-century pandemic before the crushing power of China’s surveillance state silenced him.