Chinese leadership harasses activists & lawyers as face saving measure

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Originally published by The Economic Times on April 21, 2020

NEW DELHI: Chinese authorities have been allegedly harassing lawyers and activists who are speaking about coronavirus outbreak and its management.

A “cynical and orchestrated” campaign by the Chinese authorities to stop the country’s 1.4 billion citizens from even discussing the COVID-19 outbreak, according an investigative report by UK-based The Daily Mail.

More than 5,100 people were arrested for sharing information in the first weeks of the outbreak, the Mail claimed referring to the investigation.

The crackdown began with rebuke issued to Dr Li Wenliang and seven other doctors for sending messages to fellow medics on December 30. Dr Li was forced to sign a police document saying he had ‘seriously disrupted social order’. He returned to work at Wuhan Central Hospital where he died of COVID-19 on February 7.

A day before Dr Li’s death, lawyer Chen Qiushi – whose videos of chaotic scenes in Wuhan hospitals with coronavirus victims lying in corridors were shared with an audience of more than 400,000 YouTube and 250,000 Twitter followers – went missing. His family was told the following day that he was being held in medical quarantine at an undisclosed location.

However, as soon as Chen realized that police were closing in on him just before his disappearance, he told his followers ominously: “As long as I am alive, I will speak about what I have seen and what I have heard. I am not afraid of dying. Why should I be afraid of you, Communist Party?” And he vanished days later.

Li Zehua, a reporter with Chinese state TV became the third case of China’s crackdown on whistleblowers.

Frances Eve, deputy director of research at Hong Kong-based watchdog Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) , said: “Everyone who has disappeared is at very high risk of torture – most likely to try to force them to confess that their activities were criminal or harmful to society.” “Then, as we’ve seen in previous cases, people who have been disappeared will be brought out and forced to confess on Chinese state television,” Eve told the Daily Mail.

Chinese ambassador to America, Cui Tiankai, was asked twice on television interviews about the fate of Chen Qiushi. But he claimed, “I have not heard of this person… I did not know him then, and I do not know him now.

In another report published by The Daily Mail on Sunday, Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the Foreign affairs Committee, was quoted as warning “suited Svengalis” who profit from the skills they have acquired over years of training would face scrutiny.

“Too frequently, we’ve seen those who once wrote the rules and negotiated agreements to protect us, and some who still sit in our Parliament, selling the tricks they learned in Government,” Tugendhat wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

The move comes after a China-backed company mounted an attempted coup at a UK firm, Imagination technologies, which designs graphic chips for Apple.

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