Thousands Arrested in China for ‘Virus-Related Crimes’

BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 28: Chinese president Xi Jinping listens during the closing session of the National People's Congress, which included a vote on a new draft security bill for Hong Kong, at the Great Hall of the People on May 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. The Chinese government passed …
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According to a statement from the Chinese state prosecutor’s office on Thursday, police arrested 5,797 people between January and July for coronavirus-related crimes, ranging from fraud and embezzlement to murder.

AFP on Monday summarized a few of the cases on the Chinese docket:

One case involved a shopper that beat to death another customer who reminded him to wear a mask in a supermarket.

Other cases included a person who deliberately mowed down medical workers with a car, and another was arrested for stabbing a health inspector with a dagger when monitoring temperatures.

Some have also been accused of embezzling money collected from fundraisers to help coronavirus patients, selling defective medical equipment and lying about their travel history or health condition.

AFP noted that the Chinese prosecutor’s office did not specify how many people remain in detention for coronavirus crimes, or if any of them have been sentenced yet. 

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese provincial authorities posted notices stating that people convicted of “spreading the virus intentionally” or “endangering public security” could face the death penalty,” while coronavirus-related activities deemed subversive could be punished by up to 15 years in prison.

It was not clear from the prosecutor’s statement whether some of these “coronavirus crimes” fell under the rubric of official corruption. Although it has been months since the Chinese government said anything critical about its coronavirus response, the early days of the pandemic included some frantic efforts to blame foolish and corrupt local officials for allowing the virus to spread beyond Wuhan. Some outside observers believe the corruption of local officials played a significant role in the outbreak.

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping portrays himself as a tireless crusader against “tigers and flies” corruption, a phrase that comes from a Xi speech that said corruption fighters must be ready to tackle both “tigers” at the highest levels of government and “flies” at the bottom.

It is also unclear if China’s 5,800 “coronavirus criminals” include those who will be prosecuted for speaking out against the government’s handling of the pandemic. The Chinese government has cracked down hard against criticism, resulting in hundreds of known arrests for speech crimes. Even simply making copies of digital records to prevent the government from destroying them has resulted in arrests, justified with the all-purpose allegation of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

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