Virus Crackdown: Chinese Government is Arresting Critics of Beijing’s Coronavirus Response

Published January 31st, 2020 - 05:20 GMT

China has arrested at least eight people for spreading ‘rumors’ about the Coronavirus, while activists claim that the number of people being arrested on the same charge may be much higher.

China’s huge online censorship system, known as the Great Firewall, has been censoring any information the government deems to be “rumor.”

Although spreading misinformation about the Coronavirus may play a major role in getting arrested in the propaganda fueled nation, it is not clear whether these people are getting arrested because they were spreading false information, or because they were saying things that did not please the Chinese government.

On January 3rd, Chinese authorities arrested eight Wuhan residents on charges of posting or sharing ‘false information’ about Coronavirus on the Internet without verification, and they are now facing charges ranging between three and seven years in prison.

However, it was later reported that the eight people who were initially arrested were doctors working to contain the Coronavirus. Activists argue that it is likely that China was trying to stop the spread of any unauthorized information about the virus, not just rumors. 

One of the doctors, who was forced to sign a document saying he would abide by the law, has since been infected with the Coronavirus and remains in critical condition.

This week, police in the port city of Tianjin detained a man for 10 days for “maliciously publishing aggressive, insulting speech against medical personnel” after he criticized the response to the outbreak in a WeChat group he shared with his friends.

On Wednesday the government authorities issued an order for an article that looked at the possible negative impact of the outbreak on China’s economy to be scrubbed from the internet. 

The article, published by state-owned weekly news magazine Sanlian Life Week, considered what might happen to the Chinese economy if the World Health Organization declares the Wuhan Coronavirus to be a “global health emergency.” 

This is being described as the latest effort by Beijing to censor criticism of the virus.

Activists and critics of the government’s efforts to censor online discussion and sharing of information argue these actions threaten basic human rights.

“The Coronavirus outbreak requires a swift and comprehensive response that respects human rights,” Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Authorities should recognize that censorship only fuels public distrust, and instead encourage civil society engagement and media reporting on this public health crisis.”

On Monday, a government official and several state-run media released photos of a hospital that allegedly treats Coronavirus, but activists pointed out that they were photos of an apartment building in Qingdao.

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