Coronavirus whistleblower doctor officially exonerated in Chinese inquiry


Dr. Li Wenliang has been officially exonerated by an investigation into his death. The Chinese doctor was reprimanded by the communist government for “spreading rumours” after he sought to warn colleagues about the emergence of Covid-19.

However, the report has also been criticised for not going far enough, after it only recommended the reprimand against Dr. Li be withdrawn.

Dr. Li had posted to a group chat with other medics about some patients showing signs of a new Sars-like illness in early December, well before Chinese authorities admitted to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus.

Police detained Li a few days later for “spreading false rumours” and forced him to sign a police document admitting that he had “seriously disrupted social order” and breached the law.

A week later the 34-year-old doctor developed a fever and later published his account online. After being diagnosed with Covid-19 at the end of January, he died in early February of the virus. His death sparked outrage in China, particularly among internet users. Censors were overwhelmed by a wave of critical posts, including some blaming the government.

The unusual level of public anger directed at the Chinese Communist party led to its powerful internal anti-corruption body and the country’s highest anti-corruption agency declaring investigators would go to Wuhan for “a comprehensive investigation into the problems reported by the public concerning Dr. Li Wenliang”.

This week it delivered its report, finding that Li had not disrupted public order, and that he was a professional who fought bravely and made sacrifices. However it reportedly maintained that Li had not verified the information before sending it, and it was “not consistent with the actual situation at the time”.

The key recommendation was for Wuhan authorities to identify the police who reprimanded Li. It said they should be held responsible for not following correct procedures and the reprimand should be withdrawn.

“Is that it?” said one user on China’s Weibo, where news of the report was the top read topic, with over 160m views, on Thursday evening.

“It’s like they might as well have not said anything,” said another.

“How can you let these police at the very bottom bear the burden?” said one top comment on Weibo on Thursday night. “They were just carrying orders. Don’t hurt them.”

Following the release of the report, the Wuhan public security bureau said the deputy head of the police station and an officer had been given, respectively, a demerit and a warning, according to a post from the bureau on Weibo.

In another statement, the bureau said it had “solemnly apologised” to Li’s family and promised to “conscientiously draw lessons and improve” its operations.

The report also denounced the “anti-establishment” labels of “hero” and “awakener”, which some people had given to Li.

“Li Wenliang was a Communist party member, not a so-called ‘anti-institutional figure’,” an unnamed party official told the state-run news agency Xinhua. “Those with ulterior motives who want to stoke the flames, deceive people, and stir up emotions are doomed to fail.”

The official also said further investigations would be launched into the initial response to the outbreak.

“Punishment will be carried out to relevant departments and personnel for their slow response, lost control in the prevention process and ignorance of their job duties during the epidemic,” the national supervisor commission said. (Source: The Guardian)