Report: Human Rights Abuses Surged in China During Coronavirus Epidemic

People hold Chinese flags as they gather outside of a park where an official memorial was held for victims of coronavirus in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Saturday, April 4, 2020. With air raid sirens wailing and flags at half-mast, China held a three-minute nationwide moment of reflection to …
Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

An activist network called Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) issued a report this week accusing the Chinese Communist government of perpetrating widespread abuses during the coronavirus epidemic, including “draconian measures” to suppress criticism of the regime.

“These include deleting critical information online, censoring the media, punishing whistleblowing doctors, detaining and disappearing independent journalists and government critics, and kicking out foreign reporters,” CHRD said.

The report documented 897 cases over the past three months of Chinese Internet users suffering penalties or harassment from the authorities for sharing information about the coronavirus or discussing it. 

China’s massive censorship apparatus went into “overdrive” deleting posts the government disapproved of, including “stories of family members falling sick and dying without being tested, desperate calls for help and donations, eyewitness accounts of overwhelmed hospitals,” and “expressions of sympathy for the devastated families and loss of life.”

“The punishments handed out by police fall largely into several types: administrative detention, criminal detention, enforced disappearance, fines, warnings/interrogations, forced confessions and ‘educational reprimand,” the report said.

Over 96 percent of those punishments were justified with charges of “spreading misinformation” or “disrupting public order.” Another common allegation was “rumor-mongering.” 

Those were the charges laid against the two most prominent whistleblower doctors in Wuhan, Drs. Li Wenliang and Ai Fen, when they were prevented from warning the Wuhan medical community and the outside world about the virus. Dr. Li was killed by the coronavirus in February, while Dr. Ai disappeared in March after giving an interview critical of the Chinese government.

Others listed in the report as arrested and mostly held incommunicado by the Communist regime include citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, former state media broadcaster Li Zehua, dissident intellectual Guo Quan, and property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang.

Guo Quan was arrested in March for “inciting subversion of state power” by publishing online articles about the coronavirus outbreak. 

Li Zehua quit his job with China’s state broadcast network CCTV, moved to Wuhan to file online video reports about the outbreak, and then disappeared in late February after posting a video stream of himself on the run from sinister security agents.

“I’m on the road and someone, I don’t know, state security, has started chasing me. I’m driving very fast. Help me,” Li said in a video that ended with two men barging into his apartment. The video was later hunted down and deleted by Chinese censors.

“Under the guise of fighting the novel coronavirus, authorities in China have escalated suppression online by blocking independent reporting, information sharing, and critical comments on government responses,” CHRD charged.

Despite all of this, China took a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over the weekend, and will now be involved in selecting human rights investigators, including those who would monitor freedom of speech abuses and arbitrary detentions.

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