Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old eye doctor in Wuhan who first publicised the novel coronavirus on China’s social media, died of the virus on the morning of February 7.
Dr. Li’s death triggered strong anger and emotions from the public, as many netizens criticised the authorities for silencing him and accusing him of spreading rumors when he first sounded the alarm on the coronavirus.
Chen Jue, a Facebook user, left a comment on Voice of America (VOA) under the news about Dr. Li’s death, “How many people have died because they believed in the government! Because of the public condemnation of the eight whistleblowers [including Dr. Li], so many people believed in the government’s claim that there was no risk or safety concerns about the virus. Then they were infected and died. I would say that this is the price they paid for believing in the (Chinese communist) government!”
“A Healthy Society Shouldn’t Have One Voice Only”
In late December 2019, Dr. Li sent messages to a chat group of his medical school alumni, warning them of a new SARS-like virus attacking the respiratory system.
On January 1, 2020, he and seven other colleagues working in the same hospital were arrested by the Wuhan police for “spreading rumors.” This incident was reported in prime time on the state-run CCTV (China Central Television).
Interrogated and pressured by the police, Dr. Li was forced to write a criticising statement against himself for “breaching the law and seriously disrupting social order.”
Hu Fayun, an author in Wuhan, told VOA that, “From Li’s messages and statements, he was just a typical netizen who cared about his own and other families.
He sent the warning about the virus to fulfill his responsibility as a doctor, and it’s also the normal response that anyone would have in the face of emergency.
Just for speaking the truth, he was subjected to extreme unfair treatment. And also because of that, many Chinese netizens who were in similar situations suddenly woke up.”
As the epidemic became more and more serious, the government later acknowledged Dr. Li’s efforts to inform the public of the coronavirus.
In an interview with a Chinese media Caixin, Dr. Li said it’s not important anymore whether he was rehabilitated, but “a healthy society shouldn’t have one voice only.”
Shortly after Dr. Li’s death, another five medical staff in Yunnan Province were arrested, detained and fined for “taking unauthorised videos and spreading information about the epidemic control and prevention.”
One netizen commented, “The police only followed the order to reprimand the whistleblowers and the news anchor only read the scripts given by their supervisors about the arrests. But only when everyone dares to say, ‘I refuse to lie,’ or ‘I refuse to execute the order,’ will we not find ourselves in a helpless situation one day and die like a dog.”