(CNSNews.com) – The public security bureau in the epicenter city of Wuhan has apologized to the family of a doctor who was reprimanded in January for spreading “rumors” online about a new mystery virus, before he succumbed to the disease a month later.
At the instruction of the Communist Party’s top supervisory body, Wuhan security officials also revoked the formal reprimand order, and two police officers were punished for “dereliction of duty,” state media report.
The death in February of Dr. Li Wenliang, 34, unleashed a wave of anger on Chinese social media, prompting the central government first to resort to customary censorship and then to scramble to undo the damage by announcing an investigation.
Forty-two days later the National Supervisory Commission called Thursday for Wuhan police to rescind the reprimand order, finding the law enforcement procedures to have been “irregular.”
The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times and other outlets reported that the investigation team also instructed the municipal supervisory authority in Wuhan to oversee and rectify the matter, hold the “relevant personnel accountable,” and promptly make public the results.
The investigators were cited as saying Li’s release of the information “objectively played a role in promoting attention to the epidemic in various aspects and strengthening prevention and control.”
Global Times opined that the Li case had been “highly politicized and used in attacks on China’s political system.”
Grief over his death, it said, was “exploited by secessionists and foreign entities, which have spread anti-China sentiment on social media. It has become a source to share emotions and even outrage over Wuhan’s handling of COVID-19 in the early stage, with some maliciously intending to use Li’s death to incite ‘social movements’ in China.”
The party mouthpiece added that the release of the probe findings “showed the Chinese government is committed to moving forward, while [it] remains wary of such ulterior motives.”
‘Calm down and reflect on your behavior’
Li, an ophthalmologist working at Wuhan Central Hospital, sent messages on December 30 to colleagues in an online chat group, drawing attention to seven cases of pneumonia at the hospital which he thought appeared similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus that emerged in China in 2002. He advised them to wear protective gear.
On January 3 the Wuhan public security bureau summoned him and officials ordered him to sign a document accusing him of “making false comments” and disturbing the social order.
According to published reports, the document stated, “We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice – is that understood?”
“We hope you can calm down and reflect on your behavior.”
He was one of at least eight people punished for spreading rumors about the illness.
Li was diagnosed with COVID-19 on January 30, and from his hospital bed described what had happened in a post on the popular microblogging site, Weibo, where he also posted a copy of the reprimand letter. He died on February 7.
The investigation also looked into the medical treatment Li received and apparent attempts by the hospital to delay the announcement of his death.
‘Maybe some people reacted not quickly enough’
Global Times characterized Li as a loyal Communist Party cadre, a hero who “shared the determination and spirit of self-sacrifice found among many other [party] members who are now fighting the tough battle against the disease.”
The paper cited “observers” as saying that the decision to revoke the reprimand “restores Li’s reputation, sending a clear message that when the virus battle nearly comes to an end in China, the country will enter a new phase of introspection, hold accountability, and fix its loopholes.”
Two days after Li died, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai was asked about the episode during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and expressed sadness over his death.
“Do you think silencing him in the beginning was a mistake?” asked host Margaret Brennan.
“I don’t know who tried to silence him," Cui said, "but there was certainly a disagreement, or people were not able to reach agreement, on what exactly the virus is, how it is affecting people. So there was a process of trying to discover more, to learn more about the virus.”
“Maybe some people reacted not quickly enough,” said Cui. “Maybe Dr. Li, he perceived some incoming dangers earlier than others, but this is – this could happen anywhere. But whenever we find there's some shortcoming we’ll do our best to correct it.”
On March 3, the U.S. Senate passed a bilateral resolution honoring Li.
“Dr. Li tried to warn his country and the world about the deadly coronavirus, but he was silenced by the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), its lead sponsor, said at the time.
“Today, the U.S. Senate celebrated his heroic actions and marked forever his contribution to the fight against the virus which took his life. We should honor his legacy by pushing the CCP to be fully transparent about this disease and their efforts to stop it.”
The apology and revoking of the formal reprimand in Wuhan comes as Beijing continues to object to U.S. politicians’ references to the fact the novel coronavirus first emerged in China.