China arrests COVID-19 commentator

China arrests COVID-19 commentator

China has conducted mass arrests of citizens who dared to speak up against the communist government and its failure to manage the coronavirus pandemic.

In a sweeping crackdown of dissenters, the Chinese Communist Party has arrested hundreds of people who dissented against the official party line that has been in place since the outbreak began. The latest high-profile arrest is of a constitutional lawyer who penned an open letter criticizing the communist government’s handling of the pandemic and its subsequent attempts to suppress free speech and information about the virus.

According to reports on the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, 43-year-old lawyer Zhang Xuezhong posted the open letter on WeChat. The letter condemned China’s absence of non-state media and took aim at its efforts to prevent medical experts from advising the public during the outbreak.

“The best way to fight for freedom of expression is for everyone to speak as if we already have freedom of speech,” wrote Zhang.

Chinese citizens had previously called on the government to loosen its regulations against free speech following the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, a frontline doctor who was the first medical expert to alert his colleagues in December about the pneumonia-like illness now confirmed to be COVID-19. He was one of eight people arrested by police and silenced for blowing the whistle on the spread of the coronavirus as China attempted to conceal the extent of the outbreak.

The SCMP reports that the doctor was coerced into signing a document agreeing to “keep in line in thought and action” with the accepted narrative put forth by the Chinese Communist Party. He later died from the disease.  

“Twenty-two days before the [lockdown to contain the outbreak] in the city, Wuhan was still investigating and punishing citizens who had disclosed the epidemic, including Dr Li Wenliang … showing how tight and arbitrary the government’s suppression of society is,” wrote Zhang, whose letter goes on to describe the failures of the Chinese political system caused by its lack of transparency.

“There were few independent professional media to investigate and report on the outbreak, nor did medical professionals provide independent advice to the public … It only shows that the government’s long-term tight control of society and people has almost completely destroyed the organization and self-help capabilities of Chinese society,” Zhang wrote.

Zhang also called upon the government to release all political prisoners and end bans on political parties and non-state media. China currently remains a one-party system run by the Chinese Communist Party.

China continues to assert that it did not mismanage its handling of the coronavirus and has condemned other countries, particularly the United States, for laying the blame squarely at the feet of the Chinese government.

Zhang, who lives in Shanghai, was arrested a day after he posted the letter. He joins hundreds of other political commentators, journalists, scientists, healthcare workers, and private citizens critical of the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus.