China harasses citizens for reporting on coronavirus

Li Wanhua (second from right)
(Photo: ChinaAid)

(Beijing—March 4, 2020) China has harassed its citizens for speaking out about the coronavirus.

State security officers summoned Li Wanhua, a pastor from Fengle Church in Jiangmen, Guangdong. The reason he was called in pertained to his sharing a social media post from Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the virus’s original whistleblowers.

A Christian with knowledge of the situation said officials are now questioning pastors and lawyers in conjunction with the virus.

Another Christian, Sun Feng, was seized by local police and state security officers on Feb. 7 for asking his friends to fast and pray for “peace and safety” as the illness goes around.

One of the questioned attorneys, Jiang Yongli, was also called into the police station because of a shared social media post about the coronavirus. He later reported an officer asked him whether or not he had shared the post and what his purpose had been. He said he had a, “3-fold purpose: First, educate all my WeChat friends and let them know the harm and infection rate of the novel coronavirus so that they can self-quarantine at home and care about themselves and their families. If one has contracted it, there is no effective cure nor any [open] beds in hospitals, so precautions are contributions to society. Second, [I am doing this to] spread knowledge about how to prevent it, cut down the chances of infection, and advocate for the marginalized who cannot get medical help …. Third, pressingly ask who should be responsible for the virus and the defects of the system, find out the virus’s culprit, and severely penalize them in order to comfort our fellow men … [I am also pressing for the] improvement all kinds of systems to ensure that citizens won’t be harmed by the same system that has been hurting people during this Wuhan sickness.”

Jiang’s statement alludes to many Chinese citizens’ discontent with their government’s handling of the virus. Before the virus became widespread, Dr. Li Wenliang messaged a group of doctors on Dec. 30, saying he had observed a new sickness in his patients. Initially, he believed it to be a resurgence of SARS, a coronavirus that rocked China from 2002-2003.

On the same day, the Wuhan public Health Commission circulated a document acknowledging some people were suffering from pneumonia. It also forbade the further, unauthorized spread of information about the virus.

However, screenshots of Li’s message quickly spread, and the police ordered him to come to the station. There, they warned him to stop publicly speaking of the virus. If he refused to comply, he would be punished.

Li passed away from the virus on Feb. 7, just five weeks after reporting the virus to his friends.

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