Police in China’s virus epicenter Wuhan acted “inappropriately” by punishing a doctor who blew the whistle on the outbreak that has now killed more than 9,000 worldwide, a Chinese government investigation found Thursday.
Li Wenliang, one of a group of doctors in Wuhan who shared posts on social media warning of a SARS-like virus spreading in the city in December, was reprimanded by police for sharing the information and made to sign a statement agreeing not to commit any more “law-breaking actions.”
Li’s death from the virus in February prompted a national outpouring of grief as well as anger at the government’s handling of the crisis, and bold demands for freedom of speech.
The police issued an apology after the result of the investigation was published, drawing a new round of criticism on Twitter-like Weibo, with people saying it was too little, too late.
A central government investigation initiated after Li’s death found that Wuhan police “acted inappropriately by issuing a disciplinary letter” and took “irregular law enforcement procedures,” state broadcaster CCTV reported Thursday.
The investigators also found that Li’s colleagues had repeatedly attempted to resuscitate the 34-year-old before he was declared dead because he was “very young,” CCTV said.
State media said Li’s colleagues told investigators, “as long as there was a bit of hope we were unwilling to give up, at the time there were no other factors.”
The central government investigators “suggest” that Wuhan authorities “supervise and rectify the matter,” and urged local police to revoke the disciplinary statement issued to Li, according to CCTV.
Wuhan police later issued a statement saying that the disciplinary statement had been “wrong” and they were revoking it, and that they “apologise to his family for the mistake”.
The deputy director of the Zhongnan Road police station was given a “demerit” on his record and the officer on duty was handed an “administrative warning”, it added.
It is rare for Chinese authorities to admit such wrongdoing, but Beijing has sought to direct criticism over the mishandling of the virus outbreak onto provincial officials, with several of the region’s top Communist Party and health officials sacked.
Tens of thousands commented on the police’s Weibo post, with some saying it was not good enough.
“Go and apologise in front of the person’s grave,” said one user.
Another wrote: “This apology has come too late, Wenliang can’t hear it.”
Li’s death had initially been reported by state media before their reports were quickly deleted. Wuhan Central Hospital only confirmed Li’s death hours later, after saying he was undergoing emergency treatment.
Social media users who immediately took to Weibo in droves to mourn Li – before posts related to his death were scrubbed by censors – had accused hospital authorities of inappropriately attempting to resuscitate Li after he had already died.
China reported zero domestic COVID-19 infections for the first time on Thursday, even as nations across the world have shut down in a desperate effort to contain the pandemic.
China’s central government has sought to distance itself from the origins of the disease, initially by sacking local officials blamed for allowing the virus to spread, and recently by supporting the conspiracy theory that Covid-19 originated in the US.