Li Wenliang, 34, he ophthalmologist who first raised the alarm about the appearance of a novel coronavirus but was forced into silence by Chinese authorities.
By Wang Zhicheng
Jan 28 2021
Human rights lawyers see the ophthalmologist as a role model to follow. He raised the alarm about the coronavirus and was silenced by police and hospital authorities. The epidemic that followed is the price for the silence imposed on Li Wenliang, intellectuals, writers, journalists, and others. The campaign can offer a suggestion to the WHO.
BEIJING – A group of human rights lawyers has just launched a campaign on the Internet to mark the first anniversary of the death of Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who first raised the alarm about the appearance of a novel coronavirus but was forced into silence by Chinese authorities.
Li Wenliang, 34, contracted the SARS-CoV2 and died from COVID-19 on 6 February 2020, leaving a wife and a son (born after his death). Because of his revelations, he was threatened by hospital authorities and silenced by police.
The group, which claims 200 members, issued an open letter urging others, individuals and groups, to speak out about their experiences over the past year, asking them to tell the truth the way Li Wenliang did. A similar campaign was also launched in 2020, shortly after Li’s death.
“This is not about the right to criticise the government but rather about inspiring people to speak up like Li Wenliang did,” said Liu Shuqing, a campaign organiser.
“We want to raise awareness about the significance of speaking the truth and remember the price paid by Li and the country as a whole for the outbreak after the early warning was suppressed by officials,” Liu added.
Li Wenliang had posted messages on social media as early as late December, but Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) waited until 23 January to proclaim a health emergency.
Eventually, WHO issued a worldwide alert on 11 March, but has been criticised for being subservient to China.
Li Wenliang is not the only whistle-blower to be silenced by Chinese authorities. Dr Ai Fen, who raised the alarm about the coronavirus in mid-December, went missing for a long while. Writer Fang Fang, who kept a diary of life in Wuhan during the height of lockdown in history, was also muzzled.
Other intellectuals disappeared after attacking the government for its handling of the pandemic. Human rights activist Xu Zhiyong has been held in a secret prison for “inciting subversion against state power”. He told Chinese President Xi Jinping to quit over his failures.
Since February 2020, nothing is known about Xu Zhangrun and He Weifang, who said that the lack of press freedom had favoured the spread of the coronavirus. Last December, journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported on Wuhan, was sentenced to four years in prison.
Three other citizen journalists disappeared in Wuhan in February 2020. Li Zehua, who had mentioned the city’s crematorium ovens working 19 hours a day, reappeared on 22 April after a period under arrest. Nothing is known of the fate of Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi.