Chinese Virologist Who Claimed COVID Was Made in Lab Says Her Mom Has Been Arrested in China

An academic who claimed—without evidence—that the Chinese government was behind the manufacturing and intentional release of SARS-CoV-2 now says her mother has been arrested in retaliation for her speaking out to U.S. media.

Li-Meng Yan, a former Hong Kong University post-doctoral student, fueled internet conspiracies last month after asserting the virus that causes COVID-19 was "not from nature" while pushing a pre-print report filled with baseless assertions about the origins of the virus.

It emerged that Yan and her colleagues appeared to be affiliated with the Rule of Law Society, a group founded by former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

In an interview on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Tuesday, labeled as a whistleblower, Yan told the Fox News host her 63-year-old mother had been detained by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after her appearances. "They are angry," she said.

Saying more evidence would be released soon, Yan continued: "This is not the first time my mom and my other family members [have been] arrested by the [CCP]. I cut off most connection with my family directly. This is the fourth time my mom, 63 years old, teacher, got arrested by Chinese Communist Party.

"I'm the only child in my family. My mom has done nothing wrong. The only thing they arrest my mom for, and send her to Beijing, is because I tell the truth of COVID-19, which [they] feel angry about. What they have done is try to make me silent."

Yan did not provide further information about the exact time and date of her mother's arrest by Chinese officials, and Carlson did not press for further clarification. She could not immediately be reached for comment by Newsweek.

In mid-September, Yan's Twitter account was suspended as social media platforms rushed to add warning labels and fact-checks on viral internet videos containing her claims, which were swiftly rejected by the wider scientific community.

At the time, Twitter declined to comment to Newsweek. It remains unclear if there was a specific tweet that violated policy. At least one new account appears to have been created, although it is unknown if the profile is actually being run by Yan.

"The report is not based on an objective interpretation of the SARS-CoV-2 genome," said Andrew Preston, Reader in Microbial Pathogenesis at the University of Bath. "The interpretations made are not supported by data, are unsubstantiated and the interpretations are largely stated but not explained.

"The report does not appear to start with an open hypothesis about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. The language of the report is reminiscent of a conspiracy theory."

Michael Head, a senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, said such claims had been rebutted several times: "This... conspiracy around deliberate release form a laboratory has been doing the rounds throughout the pandemic.

"Ultimately, it could be damaging to public health if reported uncritically without looking at the wider evidence. If people are exposed to and then believe conspiracy theories, this will likely have a negative impact on efforts to keep COVID-19 cases low and thus there will be more death and illness than there needs to be."

Experts say evidence suggests the novel coronavirus was transferred to humans from bats or pangolins, two species known to contain similar coronavirus strains.

"Closely related coronaviruses have been retrieved from animals such as bats and pangolins which makes the scenario of naturally occurring evolution far more likely than any scenario of laboratory manipulation," Gkikas Magiorkinis, Assistant Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the University of Athens, said.

"In fact we have clear history of zoonotic origin of lethal coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. The paper by Li-Meng et al. does not provide any robust evidence of artificial manipulation, no statistical test of alternative hypotheses (natural evolution vs artificial manipulation) and is highly speculative."

In April, Newsweek revealed an assessment into the origins of COVID-19 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency included the possibility the novel coronavirus may have been accidentally released from a Chinese lab due to "unsafe" practices.

But the classified March 27 report said there was "no credible evidence" to suggest that the respiratory disease was released intentionally or made as a biological weapon.

Dr. Li-Meng Yan
Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a former Hong Kong University post-doctoral student, speaking during an appearance on Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. Screenshot/Tucker Carlson Tonight