Petition seeking right to freedom of speech gathers momentum as China fights coronavirus 

WION Web Team New Delhi Feb 12, 2020, 03.44 PM(IST)

Chinese doctor Li Wenliang. Photograph:( Others )

Story highlights

The petition follows outpouring emotions over the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded for issuing an early warning about coronavirus and later died of the disease, triggering widespread outrage. 

Amid widespread criticism over the Chinese government's handling of coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of Chinese, led by academics, have signed an online petition calling on the national legislature to protect citizens’ right to freedom of speech, a South China Morning Post report said. 

The petition follows outpouring emotions over the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded for issuing an early warning about coronavirus and later died of the disease, triggering widespread outrage. 

The new virus has so far infected more than 44,000 people and killed more than 1,000 in mainland China, with cases reported in more than 20 other countries.

The petition, addressed to the National People’s Congress, lists five demands for Beijing: to protect people’s right to freedom of expression; to discuss the issue at this year’s annual legislative sessions; to make February 6, the day Li died, a national day for free speech; to ensure no one is punished, threatened, interrogated, censored or locked up for their speech, civil assembly, letters or communication; and to give equitable treatment, such as medical care, to people from Wuhan and Hubei province, according to the report. 

Many people from the outbreak epicentre have reported experiencing discrimination elsewhere in the country as the virus has spread, the report added. 

The petition has gained momentum online, but some of the signatories have come under pressure. 

Veteran mainland journalist Chen Min, one of the signatories, said he felt compelled to sign the petition and act according to his conscience “at a critical juncture that could change China’s future”.

“It is inexcusable for an intellectual not to step up in the face of a national crisis like this, with an impact that far outweighs the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake,” Chen was quoted as saying.

“If anyone has to pay a price for [signing this petition] on such a rational set of demands, then it really shows all sanity has been lost … and it will only further inflame public anger,” he added.