Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities detained a Chinese constitutional scholar after he wrote an open letter to the Chinese government criticizing its handling of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and demanding free speech, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Monday.
Zhang Xuezhong, a constitutional professor and defense lawyer for Chinese human rights activists, has long been a vocal critic of the CCP’s political and legal systems. On Sunday, security forces abducted him from his Shanghai home, according to the report.
“He was taken away on Sunday night. Three police cars came to his house,” Wen Kejian, a political analyst and friend of Zhang told the SCMP.
Another friend of Zhang’s, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that Zhang had been “taken” by authorities.
“He is mentally prepared after his open letter,” the friend added.
On Saturday, Zhang posted his letter on WeChat, a Chinese messaging and social media app. He addressed the letter to deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC), representatives of China’s legislature. The timing of the post was significant, as Zhang’s letter circulated widely online just as the national legislature prepares to convene for its “most important” parliamentary sessions in the coming weeks.
In his WeChat post, Zhang attached his open letter and included an accompanying message in support of freedom of speech.
“The best way to fight for freedom of expression is for everyone to speak as if we already have freedom of speech,” he wrote.
In his letter, Zhang called China’s system of governance “backward” for lacking a modern constitution.
“[T]he outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 [Wuhan coronavirus] epidemic is a good illustration of the problem,” he argued.
The Wuhan coronavirus originated in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei province, in late 2019. Since then, the virus has spread out of China to other countries, resulting in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, responsible for at least 289,932 deaths worldwide. The CCP’s cover-up of China’s initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan has been widely criticized by global health authorities, who blame the Communist Party’s lack of transparency for allowing the virus to mushroom from an isolated outbreak to a global pandemic.
Zhang’s letter addressed the absence of scrutiny inherent in China’s political system as a key contributor to the disastrous viral outbreak, according to the report.
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.
The human rights lawyer also called for freedom of speech.
“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,” Zhang wrote.
Dr. Li has become somewhat of a martyr for free speech in China since he died from coronavirus in February. Just before his death, Li had tried to warn the public about the danger of the coronavirus during its initial outbreak in Wuhan, for which he was arrested and reprimanded by CCP authorities, who accused him of “spreading rumors.” Li’s arrest and death have since sparked calls for freedom of speech within China, as in Zhang’s letter.