A Chinese property tycoon has vanished after criticizing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s response to the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan in December, according to a new report published on Saturday, March 14.
Ren Zhiqiang, also known as “The Cannon,” who is a one of Xi’s most outspoken critics in mainland China, is missing, his friends said on Saturday, reported the New York Times.
“We’re very worried about him,” a friend of Ren’s told the Times. “I will continue to look for him.”
Ren, in a scathing essay, slammed the ruling Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech and criticized Xi and the government for silencing whistleblowers and concealing the rampant outbreak, which has infected more than 80,000 people in the country and caused 3,199 deaths.
“I see not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing to be an emperor,” he wrote, referencing to Xi.
“You don’t in the slightest hide your resolute ambition to be an emperor and your determination to destroy anyone who won’t let you,” Ren added.
Ren’s disappearance came amid a campaign from the Party to quell criticism coming from angry Chinese public as it portrays Xi as a hero who is leading the country in combatting the deathly virus.
This was not the first time Ren has come under scrutiny from the Communist Party: In 2016, the Party put Ren on a year’s probation for denouncing Xi’s propaganda policies in comments online. Ever since, he has been banned from leaving the country and forced to delete his social media accounts.
Since the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan last December, Ren was not the first case reported missing after speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party and Xi’s handling of the virus.
After the death of Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang—the whistleblower who had tried to sound an early alarm about the virus, Chinese law professor Xu Zhangrun was arrested following his essay criticizing Xi. The law professor’s name has been absent from China’s Weibo social network since, according to The Guardian.
In addition to Li and Xu, at least three citizen journalists have vanished or were placed under house arrest after sharing information about the outbreak on social media.
Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist Chen Qiushi, who reported on overwhelmed hospitals and medical wards in Wuhan, also went missing. His family and friends have been unable to reach him since Feb. 6, his social media account was shut down on the day of his disappearance.
“In front of me is the virus, and behind me is the legal and administrative power of China,” he said in his latest video. “Even death doesn’t scare me! Do you think I’m scared of the Communist Party?”
Another person missing was blogger Fang Bin who posted a viral video showing a hospital in Wuhan where eight body bags were found on a truck.
Bilingual titles added. 8 bodies in 5 minutes! More are lying inside to be moved out. Somebody secretly shot this video from No. 3 Hospital in #Wuhan during #coronarovirus #武汉肺炎
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) February 1, 2020