02/11/2020, 16.36
CHINA
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China cracking down on the free information virus about the epidemic

by Bernardo Cervellera

The list of people arrested and put "in isolation" over their concern for the coronavirus is getting longer. It includes: journalist and lawyer Chen Qiushi, philosophy professor Zhou Xuanyi, activist Guo Quan, "martyred" Dr Li Wenliang, Xie Linka of the Tumour Centre of Wuhan Union Hospital, and Liu Wen of the neurology department of the Red Cross Society Hospital. Doubts are growing about the WHO, which hasn’t conducted any independent check. Western countries have isolated China, but have also kept silent about its actions.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The world may be praising China’s outstanding way of fighting the coronavirus outbreak, but nobody is saying anything about its success in fighting off another "virus": that of free information.

Journalists, lawyers, professors, and doctors who expressed concerns or passed on images and data that don’t fit with those from official sources have been threatened or detained by police.

Police arrested journalist and lawyer Chen Qiushi and put him "in isolation" (like coronavirus patients) for his video messages from Wuhan, Radio Free Asia reported.

One of Chen's latest reports is centred on the new hospitals that were built in a few days.

The journalist shows that they are not designed to treat patients with infectious diseases, but are simply “battlefield hospitals,” with hundreds of patients piled up in wards, often without any medical examination or treatment.

Another victim of the police is Prof Zhou Xuanyi, a philosopher at Wuhan University, who was reported to police by his own students for saying on social media that the government was late in addressing the epidemic and informing the public about it.

He was apparently denounced for "questioning the Communist Party" and "hating his own country”.

Although the Mayor of Wuhan and the government acknowledged that they moved late, the Academy of Social Sciences, where Zhou works, issued a notice saying that he "violated guidelines on the professional behaviour of college teachers in the new era” under President Xi Jinping.

Radio Free Asia also reported the arrest of Guo Quan, a pro-democracy activist and former university lecturer, in Nanjing.

The ongoing crackdown comes as many Chinese express their sorrow and criticism over the death of Li Wenliang, the 35-year-old doctor who first sounded the alarm about the virus and was threatened and silenced by the police and his hospital superiors.

Today Caixin published the interview with two other doctors who suffered Li’s fate: Xie Linka, an oncologist at the Wuhan Union Hospital’s tumour centre, and Liu Wen, who works in the neurology department of the Wuhan Red Cross Society Hospital.

In December they too had tried to inform others about the strange pneumonia affecting an increasing number of patients, only to be stopped by police.

Two major intellectual figures have spoken out against the lack of freedom of information: Tsinghua University Law Prof Xu Zhangrun and former lecturer at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications Xu Zhiyong.

Prof Xu Zhangrun published an essay criticising China’s leaders for failing to control the coronavirus epidemic. Xu Zhiyong published an article on social media asking Xi to resign because of his “inability to handle major crises”. Now both risk going to jail.

It is clear that since the start of the crisis, an information embargo has harmed people in China and around the world, favouring the spread of the virus.

Some also wonder whether the World Health Organisation – with its reticence to declare the emergency and its excessive praise for the "Chinese method" of containing the epidemic – has played into Beijing’s hands and failed to demand greater freedom of information and independent checks of the situation.

In fact, the only figures on deaths and infections available so far are those provided by Chinese health authorities.

Despite praise for Beijing’s action, many countries have shut down communications lines with China and taken preventive measures.

This shows that they have little confidence in what Chinese authorities say, but their silence has enabled Beijing to nip in the bud all forms of criticism at home.

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