The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, February 7, 2020
On February 6, 2020, Doctor Li Wenliang succumbed to the novel coronavirus. His death has shaken the internet. Dr. Li was one of the eight doctors who first warned of the coronavirus, for which they were reprimanded by the police. They made their warning, based on several medical cases, to the public via a small circle of medical professionals. First they were called in to talk with the hospital security office, then censured by the police for “spreading rumors.”
They had shared highly specialized information on the outbreak, yet the non-expert police determined that these medical professionals were spreading rumors. This is patently absurd. Furthermore, CCTV’s selective coverage of the punishment of these eight “rumormongers” has put pressure on anyone who speaks the truth, serving as an example of how speech will be repressed.
It is precisely this suppression of information that has caused the virus to spread, forced countless families to be separated, and turned this into nationwide disaster and global tragedy.
Even more disturbing, the crackdown is still ongoing. According to the statistics, over 300 people have been detained because of things they said about the epidemic. For example, citizen Fang Bin has risked his own health to report on the ground, for which been repeatedly harassed and threatened.
We do not deny that there are people who deliberately spread rumors, but a distinction must be made between rumors and incomplete information. A citizen is not an office of power; a citizen can hardly have access to completely accurate information, never mind that the data from a developing situation is always in flux. These citizens are sharing timely information based on the facts they have at hand. They are the most ardent of patriots. Theirs is the most valuable of speech. These people should be protected, not suppressed.
After the police reprimand, Dr. Li turned right around to serve in the first line of care. Unfortunately, he became a victim of the virus himself. His parents have also been infected. From the intensive care unit, Dr. Li still rallied for media interviews so that people could know the truth, an expression of his kindheartedness.
Dr. Li was punished for telling the truth, and because the truth was suppressed he became a victim of this tragedy. His death in the line of duty is symbolic. Some say the outpouring of condolences online is equivalent to giving him the solemnest of state funerals.
In order to memorialize this good doctor, to remember this enormous tragedy, and to warn of the consequences of repressing speech, we hereby call upon the masses, organizations, enterprises and institutions, independent media, and the overseas Chinese community,
To declare the day of Doctor Li Wenliang’s death, February 6, 2020, the “People’s Day of Truth” (全民真话日) on this day every year, we will observe three minutes of silence to honor Dr. Li and to reflect on this tragedy.
No one is an island. We share in both joy and sorrow. Every adult must bear their own responsibility to society. To bear this burden, let us begin by speaking the truth.
Once more, we pay our respects to Doctor Li Wenliang.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.