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Doctor Li Wenliang, R.I.P., love and light

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

Source: RFA, 7 February 2020

Chinese Doctor Who Blew Whistle on Virus Dies After Treatment 'Delay'

A whistleblowing Wuhan doctor hauled in by China's state security police after he and colleagues tried to warn the authorities about the coronavirus has died of the disease, sparking an outcry on the country's usually tightly regulated social media platforms. Li Wenliang, 34, was one of eight medical professionals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others about a newly discovered virus similar to SARS amid silence from health officials. After he reported that seven patients had contracted the virus, he was visited on Jan. 3 by police, who forced him to sign a statement admitting to having spread "rumors." Li then developed a cough on Jan. 10, fever on Jan. 11 and was hospitalized on Jan. 12, after which he began having trouble breathing. His death was confirmed early Friday, prompting a deluge of messages of mourning and outrage at his treatment at the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. "Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang of this hospital, who was unfortunately infected during the fight against the pneumonia epidemic caused by the novel coronavirus, died at 2.58 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2020 after efforts to save him were in vain," the Central Hospital of Wuhan said in an announcement on its official Weibo account. The announcement garnered hundreds of thousands of comments, many of which hit out at the lack of transparency around the epidemic on the part of Chinese health officials. “Here's hoping that there are no more lies in heaven," @weichudemeng wrote, while @Photographer_an_sir called on the government to "treat his family well." "May your journey be peaceful Dr. Li," wrote @sssoul_liiin, with a crying emoji. "You were totally awesome in this life." @Xia Wanye added: "Thank you for trying your best to protect us," with weeping and candle emojis.

Family unable to view body

User @Toake78 commented: "It wasn't a rumor, but the world was drunk. Then we woke up alone, with the good doctor already gone." Li's mother told RFA that the family had been unable to say farewell to his remains, which had already been cremated. "We weren't allowed to see him, such a shame," she said. "His ashes have been temporarily placed because his wife hasn't arrived yet. They have a five-year-old son." She said Li had appeared to be on the road to recovery, but his condition had deteriorated sharply in the last two days of his life. A total of 31,526 confirmed coronavirus cases was reported on Friday, the majority of which are still within China's borders. Residents of Wuhan left flowers for Li outside the gate of the hospital on Friday. Rights activist Wang Aizhong said the claim that Li had been "rumor-mongering" was nonsense, because Chinese officials had already notified their U.S. counterparts about the disease. "The Chinese government knew that this was no rumor, but the Wuhan police and the state media said that Li was spreading rumors," Wang said. "This is totally inconsistent with the facts." Wuhan activist Zhang Renqiang said Li and his colleagues were "true heroes." "He's a hero now, and the whole world knows it," Zhang said.

Gag order in media

A journalist surnamed Chen said there had been a gag order on the media around Li's death on Thursday night similar to that surrounding the death of late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. He said the authorities have announced an "investigation" to make it look as if the central government will bring justice to the situation. "The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced at noon that they will send a team to investigate," Chen said. "That way, people will be guided to imagine a kind of Judge Pao scenario," he said, in a reference to a popular figure from imperial China who brought corrupt officials to book. "They may fire some of the low-ranking cops [as scapegoats], or it may be that nothing will happen at all," he said. Chen said Li was likely denied testing, diagnosis and treatment after he first got sick, and was left to fend for himself by buying globulins at his own expense. "His diagnosis wasn't confirmed until Feb. 1, indicating that he didn't get much attention," he said. "We think now that this was a form of retaliation." "Last night they didn't start administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation until after his vital signs were gone," Chen said. "There was a delay." Li's wife sent an appeal for help after his death, saying that she, her parents and brother are also infected and in isolation, and that there is a five-year-old child left with nobody to care for him. Repeated calls to her cell phone rang unanswered on Friday. Repeated calls to Wu Zhequn, director of the science and technology division of the Wuhan police department, also rang unanswered.

Journalist harassed by police

Li received a visit from the police after sending out a message to former classmates on Dec. 30 that read: "Seven cases of SARS have been diagnosed in the Huanan Seafood Market, and have been isolated in the emergency department of our hospital." He was repeatedly called in for questioning by his bosses and police, and warned off saying any more. He was repeatedly questioned even after being hospitalized. Citizen journalist Fang Bin said he has also been repeatedly questioned and harassed by local police after he posted video of the situation on the ground at a Wuhan hospital. He has refused to comply and has repeatedly called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to admit that he is in the right. "I told them that everything they do is rude, simplistic and dumb," Fang told RFA. "The whole world gets what I, Fang Bin, have been doing." "You should go back and tell them that the Chinese government has to admit that Fang Bin was right," he said. Rights activist Huang Yongxiang said the authorities aren't quite sure how to handle people like Fang. "If the whole truth about the epidemic is made public, it's definitely going to cause panic, but if it isn't made public, it will harm their efforts at prevention and control," Huang said. "So the authorities are in a dilemma."

Reported by Jia Ao and Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

[Update] Source: RFA 20 March 2020. Reported by Han Jie for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lau Siu-fung and Man Hoi-tsan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

China Exonerates Late Whistleblowing Doctor Li Wenliang

China has exonerated late whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang, who was hauled in for questioning by police, who accused him of "spreading rumors" when he tried to alert the authorities about the emerging coronavirus epidemic in the central city of Wuhan.

Police in Wuhan revoked a reprimand they issued to Li, who has since died from COVID-19, and apologized to his family for their treatment of him, official media said.

Li, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, had shared information from a patient's medical records in a WeChat group on Dec. 30, showing signs of infection with a SARS-like coronavirus, the report said.

Detained and reprimanded by police on Jan. 3 for spreading rumors, Li was among eight people to be detained and questioned in Wuhan over "rumor-mongering" around the new disease.

"It turned out that the information they spread online alerting the public of the risks of people-to-people transmission was accurate," the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said in its report on the probe.

Investigators conducted face-to-face and phone interviews with Wuhan officials, party leaders, publicity officers, health experts and police, as well as the local internet censors, the paper said.

"The probe's findings showed that Li did not deliberately intend to disturb public order in posting the information on WeChat," it said, adding that Li was still responsible for passing on the information "without verification."

His employers, who were increasingly in the grip of the developing epidemic, spoke to Li, but didn't sanction him formally, the report said.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Cheng Hai said the official attempt to make amends was largely cosmetic.

"First, there is no ruling that the disciplinary punishment was illegal; second, there was no mention of the positive social impact of Li Wenliang's actions," Cheng said.

"Third, there is no clear apportioning of accountability."

Widespread public anger

The report only said that the reprimand was "inappropriate," Cheng said.

"Li Wenliang's actions were entirely lawful, and there was no legal basis for the reprimand whatsoever," he said. "Neither did they recognize that Li Wenliang's actions didn't endanger anyone, nor did they name who was responsible."

A freelance journalist who gave only his surname Liu said the report was more of a response to widespread public anger at Li's treatment.

"The Li Wenliang affair had a huge impact," Liu said. "If it had merely been a question of online opinion, the government might not have paid it much attention."

He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party normally relies on censorship and total online deletion of negative comments when something goes wrong.

"It wasn't until people started talking about protesting on the streets that they started scrambling to calm things down," Liu said.

He said that since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, his administration has become very tolerant of mistakes, but only among officials who prove their loyalty to the current leadership.

"It doesn't matter how big of a mistake you make; if you loyally implement orders from on high, they will clear up any mess for you," Liu said.

A psychologist surnamed Tan said the report was too little, too late.

"There are still so many unanswered questions, such as what was the role played by the [Communist Party] secretary?

"The investigation team should have given a much more thorough account."

In Washington, The U.S. Senate passed a resolution honoring Li.

“Dr. Li Wenliang tried to warn the world about the novel coronavirus, but the Chinese Communist Party stood in the way,” said Republican Senator Senators Cory Gardner.

We must ensure that this communicable and deadly virus is contained, and that means that the Chinese Communist Party must not be allowed to hide details of the coronavirus from its people and the world,” he said.

Reports that citizen journalists are still being silenced demonstrate that the Chinese government has not heeded his advice,” said Democratic Senator Ed Markey.

Tycoon still unaccounted for

Li wasn't the last person to run afoul of the authorities after criticizing the government's response to the coronavirus epidemic.

Chinese social media star and property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang is incommunicado, believed detained, after an article critical of the government's response to the emergence of the coronavirus in Wuhan appeared online.

The article was attributed to one "Ren Zhiqiang," but RFA was unable to verify whether he wrote it.

The article, titled "The lives of the people are ruined by the virus and a seriously sick system," doesn't mention President Xi, but it takes aim at decisions made under his direct command, nonetheless, including the decision to go ahead with a mass Lunar New Year banquet for thousands of people that resulted in a huge cluster of COVID-19 cases in the weeks that followed.

"The emperor is holding up a piece of cloth, trying to cover up the fact that he is wearing no clothes at all, although his ambition to be a strong leader is naked enough," the article quipped.

"No criticism of the mass assembly of 170,000 people has emerged, and the truth has never been uncovered, nor the cause of the outbreak discovered," the article said.

"The covert propaganda around the decisions made during the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic will only deceive those who are willing to be deceived," it said. "It won't mend those families broken by ... lost loved ones."

The article also took issue with the accusation by police that Li and his seven colleagues were "rumor-mongering."

Xi has ordered China's media to follow the party line, focus on "positive reporting", and "speak the party's will and protect the party's authority and unity" when reporting on COVID-19.

Further references:


A photo of the late ophthalmologist Li Wenliang is seen with flower bouquets at the Houhu Branch of Wuhan Central Hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, Feb. 7, 2020.
Dr. Li Wenliang, RIP, Love & Light!

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