Wuhan police have apologised to the family of a doctor whose death sparked national outrage after it emerged he had been disciplined for trying to warn colleagues about the Covid-19 outbreak.
A statement by the city’s public security bureau said it would withdraw the reprimand issued to Li Wenliang and would learn lessons from the case after the authorities in Beijing blamed a local police station for mishandling the case.
An investigation team from the state supervision authority said the Zhongnan Road station had “issued improper instructions” and followed “irregular” law enforcement procedures, according to a report released by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on Thursday evening.
The team recommended that the authorities in Wuhan instruct police to hold the “relevant personnel” accountable, and release information to the public.
The city’s public security bureau later said the deputy head of the police station Yang Li had been given a demerit, and police officer Hu Guifeng a warning.
Li was one of several doctors detained for passing on information about the emergence of the coronavirus in Wuhan in late December.
Li was subsequently diagnosed with Covid-19 on January 31, and died on February 7, sparking widespread public anger at the police and local authorities.
The investigation team issued an account of Li’s case, and a timeline of events, based on its findings. The team acknowledged that Li began warning of the disease in an article he circulated to colleagues on WeChat on December 30, entitled “Seven cases of Sars were confirmed in the Huanan Fruit and Seafood Market.”
The report stated that Li was taken to the Zhongnan Road police station “accompanied by his colleagues” after he was contacted by the station. An interview with the police was recorded and he received a written warning.
The report also detailed how Li had been reprimanded by his employer Wuhan Central Hospital.
Following his death, people across China paid tribute to him, including a group who blew whistles outside the hospital.
The case also prompted calls from intellectuals and academics demanding more freedom of speech, saying the crisis may have been prevented if Li had been free to warn his colleagues about the emergence of the coronavirus.
China’s leading infectious disease expert Zhong Nanshan said Li was a hero and he was proud of him.
The investigations team concluded Li “did not have the subjective intention of disturbing public order” by circulating information in his WeChat group, but said he had not verified the information before sending it and insisted this was “not consistent with the actual situation at that time”.
An unnamed official involved in the investigation told state-run Xinhua news agency that there were “hostile forces” trying to attack the Communist Party and government by describing Li as an “anti-establishment hero”.
“This is totally untrue,” the official said. “Li Wenliang was a Communist Party member, not a so-called ‘anti-institutional figure’. “Those with ulterior motives who want to stoke the flames, deceive people, and stir up emotions are doomed to fail.”
The team also said that further investigations would be held into the “lax” response to the epidemic.
Internet users left messages on the doctor’s Weibo page expressing their disappointment at the report’s findings.
“This is just too damn disgusting. Is it that hard to admit you’re wrong? Behind centralised authority, everything is just run by the leaders,” said one web user, commenting below a February 1 post by Li announcing he had tested positive for the disease.
Another wrote, “Doctor, your report has come out. It’s shameless. This kind of investigation team ought to go have a drink with you, but they don’t have the right to go to heaven, they can only fall to hell!”
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This article Coronavirus: Wuhan police apologise to family of whistle-blowing doctor Li Wenliang first appeared on South China Morning Post