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Where Is Investigation Report Into Coronavirus Whistleblower?

FILE - This image from video shows a selfie of Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who got in trouble with authorities for sounding an early warning about the coronavirus outbreak.

One month after the death of China's coronavirus whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, civil groups and rights advocates at home and abroad are demanding answers from the Chinese government's investigation into his alleged grievance and speech suppression.

Many, however, say pessimistically they won't get their hopes up as they suspect that China is likely paying just lip service.

In a press statement, a Washington-based non-profit organization – Citizen Power Initiative for China – urged the Chinese authorities to soon release results of the investigation, which it said shouldn’t have taken more than a month.

"Dr. Li's name as a rumormonger is still yet to be cleared even though China’s National Health Commission had just honored him, along with 33 other medical professionals [who died from the coronavirus disease, for their outstanding performance and dedication to the country's fight against the outbreak," the statement said.

Questions to be answered

The group said that it expects the Chinese government to answer their five major questions in the to-be-released investigative report.

Those include: whether Li was telling the truth about the virus? If yes, who should be held responsible for the police arrest of Li and his associates? How did the police obtain Li's private WeChat messages? At that time, whether the central government was aware of the outbreak in Wuhan and who should be held responsible for the state media CCTV's report, which called Li and his associates rumormongers.

VOA’s email to China’s National Supervisory Commission for response went unanswered.

The 34-year-old ophthalmologist from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, was among eight whistleblowers reprimanded by local authorities for trying to sound the alarm about the deadly coronavirus during December of last year.

FILE - People attend a vigil for Dr. Li Wenliang, in Hong Kong, Feb. 7, 2020.
FILE - People attend a vigil for Dr. Li Wenliang, in Hong Kong, Feb. 7, 2020.

Public fury

His death on Feb. 7 triggered an outpouring of public anger and sorrow in China as well as fury at Chinese officials.

On the same day, China rushed to announce that a team of investigators would be sent to Wuhan to see if Li was wronged – an apparent attempt to ease public anger.

The doctor had since become the face of speech suppression in China amid calls for free speech there.

Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said that China continues to crack down on the likes of Li such as citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin who tried to unveil what is happening on the ground or criticism of China’s handling of the outbreak.

Residents walk out of a subway station in Beijing, March 9, 2020. With almost no new COVID-19 cases being reported in Beijing, workers are slowly returning to their offices with masks on and disinfectant in hand.
Residents walk out of a subway station in Beijing, March 9, 2020. With almost no new COVID-19 cases being reported in Beijing, workers are slowly returning to their offices with masks on and disinfectant in hand.

Lip service

Under such circumstances, no one should expect too much from the investigation report, he said.

Poon said China is just paying "lip service" with the investigation serving few purposes other than calming public outrage toward Li’s death.

"It's very unfortunate. But definitely it is something what the Chinese government is trying to do to divert public attention on the case, and also, to try to ease public anger on the Chinese government’s mishandling of the outbreak," said Poon.

The Hong Kong-based rights activist called on China to involve third-party independent investigators if it is truly serious about getting to the bottom of the matter with transparency.

Chen Bingzhong, a former health official, also said that he holds no hope for such an investigation report because no members of the supervisory commission dare to tell the truth.

Lies upon lies

Shall investigators uncover the truth about Li’s grievance and speech suppression, higher-ups of the Communist Party will be at fault since local police took orders from the Communist leadership to arrest the whistle-blowing doctor, who had exposed the government's initial cover-up of the virus, Chen said.

China is now either caught in a dilemma or regrets to have proposed to investigate Li's case, Chen said.

The health expert urged China not to come up with a window dressing report, which he said would be "lies upon lies" and trigger another outpouring of public anger.

He also called on the public to keep pressuring the government for answers. “

The public should keep asking to hold those party leaders, who decided [to arrest Li], accountable. The leaders should offer answers. If no truth is unveiled, this [investigation] is nothing but another lie, upon many other lies,” he said.

Still waiting

Requests for the release of investigation results were seen on China’s social media.

On Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging, several users wrote "we are still waiting."

In response to the requests, one Weibo user said that “[authorities] thought we’ve forgotten…” and another mocked sarcastically that “[this] will remain an unsolved mystery.”

A rights lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he expects the commission to keep stalling the release of the results as it is never in its intention to get to the bottom of Li’s case.

Even if a report is ready internally, the supervisory commission will only make public a report that is watered-down so as not to endanger the authority of those in power, he said.