søndag 9. februar 2020

If China valued free speech, there would be no coronavirus crisis

The death of the whistleblower Chinese doctor Li Wenliang has aroused strong emotions across China. Social media is awash with posts mourning the death of a martyr who tried to raise alarm over the coronavirus but was taken into a police station instead for “spreading false rumours” and “disrupting social order”. Grief quickly turned into angry demands for free speech. The trending topic “we want freedom of speech”, which attracted millions of views, and links to Do You Hear the People Sing, a song popularised in recent Hong Kong protests, were quickly censored by police.

In an unusual move, the Communist party’s powerful internal discipline enforcement agency swiftly announced it would dispatch investigators to Wuhan to look into “questions raised by the masses” associated with Li. The Chinese authorities are starkly aware that anger and raw emotions could easily boil over and spill on to the streets.

As in the past when health or safety scandals broke, it is likely the Chinese government will fire a few local officials to douse public anger. But this will only be an expedient measure that will not resolve the real problem – its citizens’ lack of a right to free speech.