Li Wenliang censored after using social media to warn of dangers . . .
Dr. Li Wenliang, the 33-year-old ophthalmologist who was among the eight whistleblowers who disseminated early information about the coronavirus, died today of the novel virus. On December 30, Li posted on WeChat, a leading Chinese social media platform, about the existence of a SARS-like virus in Wuhan. Shortly afterwards, Li was summoned to the local Public Security Bureau, where he was asked to sign a declaration that he was spreading false rumours, a document Li later shared with journalists. On January 8, Li contracted the coronavirus from an infected patient.
Reactions to Li’s death . . .
Li’s death has created an outpouring of grief and anger on Chinese social media. On the Twitter-like Weibo, the hashtag ‘Li Wenliang has passed away’ had 670 million views, while views of the hashtag ‘I want freedom of speech’ reached about 2.86 million. Both hashtags have been censored. To mollify the public, Beijing has sent an anti-corruption team to Wuhan to investigate Li’s death. State media and Chinese officials have publicly expressed grief for his passing, with reports that local police officers and administrators at Wuhan Central Hospital may be punished in connection with the doctor’s death.
Beijing’s rumour control . . .
A signature policy of the Xi Jinping era in China has been the 2013 ruling against the ‘spread of rumours’ via the internet, which allows Beijing to imprison those it accuses of spreading what it deems to be false information. Some analysts say that silencing Li Wenliang as a ‘rumour-monger’ may have even contributed to the coronavirus’ spread, as early public awareness of the disease’s severity could have led public health authorities to act more aggressively to contain it far earlier.
- Journal of Democracy: The road to digital unfreedom: President Xi’s surveillance state
- South China Morning Post: Death of coronavirus doctor Li Wenliang becomes a catalyst for freedom of speech demands
- Wall Street Journal: In China, anger simmers over coronavirus doctor’s death