Li Zehua, an independent Chinese video journalist, spoke to CPJ about his experience reporting from Wuhan at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Li Zehua)

Chinese journalist held for reporting on Wuhan COVID outbreak wishes he’d done more

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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.

Read the full interview here.

Global press freedom updates

  • Belarusian authorities label newspaper, journalists’ association as “extremist” and prosecutor requests 10 years in prison for journalist Valeryia Kastsiuhova
  • Russian legislature adopts bill extending censorship on war reporting; a court sentences journalist Andrey Novashov to eight months of correctional labor
  • CPJ condemns Mexican military surveillance of activist’s communications with journalists
  • U.S. court convicts two men of 2012 kidnapping of journalist Michael Scott Moore in Somalia
  • Togo journalists Ferdinand Ayité and Isidore Kouwonou summoned over insult, false news allegations
  • Nigerian publisher Haruna Mohammed Salisu released on bail
  • CPJ calls for authorities in Somalia to immediately and unconditionally release journalist and press freedom advocate Abdalle Ahmed Mumin
  • Trial started for three Mada Masr journalists in Egypt
  • Pakistan bans broadcasting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speeches, suspends ARY News channel
  • CPJ concerned by the recent spate of legislation proposed by Florida lawmakers that would infringe on journalists’ abilities to work in the state


A meeting of the Council of Europe is seen in Strasbourg, France, on January 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

On March 7, the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists published “War in Europe and the fight for the right to report,” an annual report that provides a snapshot of the situation regarding media freedom and journalist safety in Europe, including recommendations for action.

The report was written by the platform’s partner organizations, a coalition of 15 press freedom groups and journalist associations, including CPJ.

CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg’s remarks on the report can be found here, and the report can be read in full here.

In partnership with CPJ, Exile Content Studio and PRX launched a new true crime podcast, “Shoot the Messenger.” The first season, “Espionage, Murder, and Pegasus Software,” examines the assassination of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, exposing the role of NSO Group’s Pegasus software in tracking the journalist’s inner circle before his murder, and reveals the growing threat of surveillance to people, journalists, and activists across the globe.

🎙️ Listen to the latest episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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