Chinese doctor feared detained shows up after weeks of being incommunicado


Whistleblower Dr. Ai Fen has showed up and confirmed she is still at work at her hospital in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, after weeks of being incommunicado.  International concern has been raised over her whereabouts and personal safety recently.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to “urgently clarify” Ai’s status, saying she had been unreachable for the past two weeks.

It said it hoped that a video on her Weibo account suggesting she was at liberty wasn’t “staged by the Chinese regime.”

Ai told RFA on Tuesday that it was she who had been sending out the posts from her Weibo account, and that she hadn’t been detained, just working.

“It was I who sent out the posts on Weibo,” she said. “I never used to use it in the past because I thought it was useless, and I only started using it after this thing happened because there were a lot of people concerned about me.”

“I’d like to thank everyone for their concern,” she said. “I’m doing pretty well, just going to work every day. Everything is fine.”

“I’d like to say … that all I ever wanted was to just get on with being a doctor in peace: thank you for your understanding,” Ai said.

However, a source familiar with the situation said that Ai had come under considerable political pressure behind the scenes, and wasn’t in a position to talk about it.

“She probably is under pressure but you shouldn’t call her; call someone else, OK?” the source said. “Sorry about that — really sorry.”

An employee who answered the phone at the Wuhan Central Hospital ER, of which Ai is director, declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Tuesday.

“It’s not convenient for me to answer your questions,” the employee said, using a phrase often used to indicate pressure from the authorities. “You should ask somebody else.”

Repeated calls to the Wuhan municipal health commission rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

RSF earlier had cast doubt on the authenticity of Ai’s Weibo posts, saying that Chinese police have often forced detainees to reveal their social media passwords and then made posts in their name.

Ai was among a group of fellow doctors who first sounded the alarm on Dec. 30 about the emergence of a mystery virus in Wuhan that seemed similar to SARS.

The authorities detained and questioned eight of the doctors on Jan. 3, including Li Wenliang, who later died of the virus, accusing them of “rumor-mongering.”

Ai was earlier given a stern reprimand after sending information about the early stages of the outbreak to a group of doctors, she wrote in a now-deleted essay published in China’s People (Renwu) magazine.

Titled “The one who supplied the whistle,” the article described how Ai had been silenced by her bosses after she took a photo of a patient’s test results and circled the words “SARS coronavirus” in red. She then alerted colleagues to several cases of the virus.

China ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index. (Source: RFA)