An influential former Chinese real estate manager, whom China's President Xi Jinping has termed a "clown" for a speech he gave last month about the government's efforts to fight the coronavirus, has disappeared, three of his friends told Reuters.
Ren Zhiqiang, a member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and former executive of the state-controlled real estate developer Huayuan Real Estate Group, has been unavailable since March 12.
"Many of our friends are looking for him," his close friend and businesswoman Wang Ying said in a statement to Reuters, describing her as "extremely anxious."
"Ren Zhiqiang is a public figure and his disappearance is well known. The institutions responsible for it must make a reasonable and legal statement as soon as possible," she said.
Calls from Reuters to Ren's cell phone went unanswered.
The Beijing police did not immediately respond to telephone and fax requests to comment on Sunday. The Chinese Council of State Information Office did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
An essay that Ren shared with people he had known in the past few weeks aimed at a speech that Xi delivered on February 23, and which, according to state media, was telephoned to 170,000 party officials nationwide. Copies of his essay were later posted online by others.
In the essay, in which Xi is not mentioned by name, Ren said after studying the speech that he "had not seen an emperor exhibiting his" new clothes "there, but a naked clown who insisted on continuing to be emperor "A version posted by China Digital Times, a US-based website.
He also said it had uncovered a "governance crisis" within the party and a lack of free press and speech prevented the outbreak from being tackled earlier, which worsened the situation.
Ren's disappearance comes as censorship of how local media and online users discuss the epidemic has worsened in recent weeks.
The corona virus that hit China late last year infected more than 80,000 people in the country and killed 3,199 people.
Ren, who was nicknamed "Cannon Ren" for earlier reviews published on social media, was put on probation by the party for one year in 2016 as part of a penalty for public criticism of government policies.
That year, the government ordered platforms like Twitter-like Weibo to shut down Ren's social media accounts, which had more than 30 million online followers at the time, and said it "spread illegal information."
Beijing has described the fight against the corona virus as a "people's war" led by Xi.
While the draconian measures to combat the virus, including blocking the city of Wuhan, have proven effective in containing it, although the disease is spreading rapidly in other countries, China has been criticized in the early days of the outbreak for suppressing information.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)