Coronavirus: death of whistleblower ignites calls for political reform in China
Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, the zero zone of China’s virus epidemic that has killed more than 800, succumbed to the disease on Friday more than a month after the alarm on the virus-like virus first woke up for the first time. SARS
He was among the eight doctors punished by Wuhan police for “rumors.”
But after his death hit a collective nerve, several academics have demonstrated to demand more freedom in China.
At least two open letters that demand freedom of expression have circulated in social networks since the death of the 34-year-old man, one signed by 10 teachers in Wuhan.
Li’s efforts “vigorously maintained the interests of the country and society,” read that letter, which has since been censored on Weibo, the social networking site similar to China’s Twitter.
“End restrictions on freedom of expression,” he demanded, and “openly apologize” to Li and the other seven doctors punished for discussing the appearance of the virus in December.
The other letter, signed on Friday by an anonymous group of alumni of the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, urged the authorities to “guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens.”
“Resolutely opposing political security being the top priority, that is an extremely selfish goal of a small organization!” He said.
The letters are a rare call for political reform in China, a country where dissidents are often imprisoned and criticism of the government is quickly eliminated.
Many references to the two letters had been removed from Weibo on Sunday.
While the World Health Organization and other experts have praised China, saying it took decisive steps to try to contain the virus, critics say precious time was lost due to the early inaction of the local government.
Li, diagnosed with the virus on February 1, said in a Weibo post in late January that local police had forced him to sign a statement agreeing not to commit more “actions that violate the law.”
He said the police had summoned him after seeing test results from some patients who suggested a virus similar to SARS and reminded his colleagues in a group chat to take stronger precautions.
Since his death, Beijing has tried to calm the public’s anger by positioning the doctor as a hero.
Criticisms are being diverted to local authorities in Hubei province, which are taking most of the public anger over the management of the epidemic.
China’s anti-graft control agency announced Friday that it will send a team to Wuhan, where it will investigate “problems related to Dr. Li Wenliang reported by the masses.”
“Send a clear message that the central authorities are determined to reach the truth and hold those responsible accountable,” the China Daily state newspaper said in an editorial on Friday.
Meanwhile, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, said he was “really sad” about the doctor’s death.
“We are very grateful to him for what he has done in our joint efforts” to combat the virus, Cui tweeted.