Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu believes that the tragic death of doctor Li Wenliang has opened people’s eyes to the real nature of their leadership.
DW: After the death of doctor Li Wenliang, who was the first to draw attention to the similarity of the new virus to the SARS virus, there were many calls for greater freedom of expression on Chinese social networks. You, Wang Yu, and other activists have now posted a call to the Chinese National People’s Congress, which can be found on the Internet, to decide on a “Freedom of Expression Day”. What was the reason for this step?
Wang Yu: Li Wenliang’s sudden death made it clear to many citizens that the government is afraid of those who tell the truth. The authorities not only attempted to suppress the scale of the epidemic but also obscured the circumstances surrounding Li Wenliang’s death. At the same time, two citizen journalists reporting on the Wuhan epidemic disappeared. Furthermore, information about the epidemic in social networks is censored by deleting posts or blocking accounts. The censorship system is the real reason for the unstoppable epidemic.
A normal society should be open and transparent, and freedom of expression is a prerequisite for this. That is why (historian) Zhang Li-Fan from Peking University asked the Chinese leadership to introduce Freedom of Speech. At the same time, a group of human rights lawyers has asked the Chinese government to allow citizens freedom of expression and stop detaining people because they are critical of their views. Li Wenliang’s death was a moment of awakening for many in China.
Beijing’s human rights position exposed
Could you elaborate on that?
Li Wenliang’s fate exemplifies the realities of the life of most Chinese. The same thing could happen to everyone. His demise has had a lasting effect on people, that’s very important. Li’s tragic end has also led to the absurdity of the Chinese government’s position that the right to secure one’s own existence is a human right and is superior to any other right. Because Li’s fate just shows and makes it clear to every citizen and internet user that the right to freedom of expression is of the highest relevance to the right to secure one’s own existence! Many citizens have now understood that freedom of expression is a right and of great importance to everyone’s life and integrity.
What do you criticize government crisis management?
By initially covering up the scale of the epidemic, doctors and medical personnel came into contact with patients without adequate protection, which increased the risk of infection for this group of people. When the epidemic got out of control, the government ordered curfews and similar measures nationwide. But can the virus really be stopped this way? I strongly doubt that. In my opinion, the strategy of cordoning off provinces, cities, and housing developments has only made the situation even more catastrophic. In addition, the government does not allow foreign experts to help fight the epidemic for purely political reasons.
Intellectuals important despite repression
Shortly before the New Year there was another concerted arrest of critical citizens and lawyers in China. Most of those arrested were released after questioning, but at least two people “disappeared” from the scene. What can intellectual initiatives actually do?
Such initiatives can encourage fellow citizens to speak out too. This is particularly important given the deterioration in the human rights situation and the rule of law in recent years. Such initiatives can encourage civil society. The intellectuals embody a country’s ideals and spirit.
After China allowed the development of various schools of thought to a limited extent ( in the course of the reform and opening policy of Deng Xiaoping – ed. ), A new generation of intellectuals has emerged who are not afraid to criticize social grievances. However, they have been increasingly subjected to repression in recent years.
Human rights lawyer Wang Yu is among the most prominent victims of a nationwide wave of arrests in July 2015, in which professional colleagues and other activists were sentenced to prison terms, some of which were long.