A group of Chinese human rights lawyers have revived a campaign to honour the Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who was disciplined for warning colleagues about the Covid-19 outbreak before dying of the disease.
The group, a loosely organised online chat group which called itself “Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group”, has published an open letter asking individuals and groups to send in stories about their experiences over the past year and why people should follow Li’s example to speak the truth.
The group made a similar call about a year ago.
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Li, who died on February 6 last year, has been hailed as a national hero for warning his friends in a private messaging group about the discovery of a “Sars-like” illness in the city in late December 2019. He was later reprimanded by his supervisors and warned by police for raising the alarm.
The group, which claimed it has about 200 members, called on “every Chinese to tell the truth in their personal capacity” and let the commemoration serve as a public warning of the consequence of losing the right to free speech, according to Liu Shuqing, one of the advocates and a former lawyer in Shandong province.
“This is not about the right to criticise the government but rather about inspiring people to speak up like Li Wenliang did,” Liu said.
“We want to raise awareness about the significance of speaking the truth and remember the price paid by Li and the country as a whole for the outbreak after the early warning was suppressed by officials,” Liu said.
While it remains to be seen whether the public responds, Tang Jitan, another former lawyer in Beijing and a supporter of the campaign, said it was a worthy cause.
“We can’t predict how far this campaign will go but telling the truth is a responsibility of every citizen and an innate desire that lives in all of us,” Tang said.
“It is a tremendously difficult cause to pursue but it is an important one and someone has to do it.”
After Li’s death, a handful of residents in Hubei province attempted to take legal action against the local authorities over their poor handling of the pandemic but their cases were rejected by the courts, according to Liu Sixin, another former lawyer.
A number of citizen journalists who reported on the outbreak in Wuhan last year were detained and harassed by the authorities, including Zhang Zhan who was recently sentenced to four years in jail.
Prominent intellectuals, including former Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun, have also been punished for criticising the Communist Party.
“We believe there are always people who are willing to look beyond their own personal interests and pay the price for telling the truth,” Liu Sixin said.
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