Lack of Free Speech Aiding the Spread of Coronavirus in China
The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in China has had a very unusual ally — censorship. Even before the virus became a major global headline, many Chinese had come forward to warn about the potential pandemic their country is facing. Beijing silenced their voices and has been censoring all news about the virus ever since, worsening the problem even further.
Restricting free speech
In early January, a Chinese doctor named Li Wenliang warned people that a mysterious virus was infecting the population. He was threatened by the authorities for “spreading rumors.” Other people who had also made such warnings online were arrested. A few days after these incidents, the Chinese government officially acknowledged that a coronavirus outbreak had happened. By then, numerous people had already been infected. If the authorities had heeded the early warnings and taken action against the virus instead of taking action against the people alerting them to it, maybe the outbreak wouldn’t have been as dire as it is right now.
He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, pointed out in an article that President Xi Jinping had already warned officials about containing the disease in early January, something that was kept hidden from the public. Weifang wrote the article by hand so as to bypass the WeChat censor system. However, the post was deleted in just about an hour.
“A shocking fact is that Xi’s January 7 speech was not reported by any media. Does Xi know that? Or did the leadership decide it was inappropriate to release it to the public?… If the media in Wuhan or Hubei could report freely and responsibly, the people would not have to rely on the buck-passing bureaucracy and live in misery,” Weifang said in the article (South China Morning Post).
Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin are two Chinese video bloggers who documented the extent of the COVID-19 infection in Wuhan, the place where the outbreak began. They had streamed several videos that showed the inefficiency of the administration in allaying people’s fear about the situation, body bags being stuffed inside hospital vans, and so on.