Minitrue: Control Temperature on Death of Coronavirus Whistleblower

The following instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

Regarding the death of Doctor of Central Hospital, rigidly adhere to standard sources. It is strictly forbidden for reports to use contributions from self-media, and sites may not use pop-up alerts, comment, or sensationalize. Safely control the temperature of interactive sections, do not set up special topic sections, gradually withdraw the topic from Hot Search lists, and strictly manage harmful information. (February 6, 2020) [Chinese]

Li Wenliang was one of eight people punished by Wuhan authorities in early January for spreading rumors about the then-nascent coronavirus outbreak. News of his death from the virus on Thursday triggered a huge public response, and was followed by reports that he was still undergoing treatment. His death has now been confirmed.

Local officials initially trumpeted these cases as a deterrent to others, but the later revelation that all eight were medical personnel who had been attempting to sound the alarm fueled public anger over the initial response to the disease. By then, Li himself had been infected by a patient he was treating for glaucoma, and was being treated in an isolation ward, but was still able to conduct several media interviews by phone and text message. One, with the Beijing Youth Daily, was targeted for deletion by a directive published by CDT last Thursday. In another interview, with Caixin, Li expressed relief at criticism of his earlier punishment from top central judicial authorities, commenting that “I think there should be more than one voice in a healthy society, and I don’t approve of using public power for excessive interference.” He told The New York Times by text that “if the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”

Earlier anger of the treatment of Li and the others exploded on Thursday, after two acquaintances reported his death, with one adding that “the Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology.” The BBC reported on the news’ spread through official media, and their subsequent reversal:

Dr Li was declared dead at 21:30 local time (13:30 GMT) on Thursday, and the news was reported by Chinese state media outlets, triggering a huge wave of popular reaction on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Journalists and doctors at the scene, who do not want their names used, told the BBC and other media that government officials then intervened.

Official media outlets were told to change their reports to say the doctor was still being treated.

Reports said the doctor was given a treatment known as ECMO (extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation) which keeps a person’s heart pumping and keeps their blood oxygenated without it going through their lungs. [Source]

Numerous observers remarked on the breadth and intensity of the public response to reports of Li’s death. (Examples of these reactions are being compiled at CDT Chinese, and selections will be translated as soon as possible.)

In another example of censorship around the case, Weibo has begun blocking posts quoting a transcript of Li’s encounter with Wuhan authorities, in which he was threatened with further punishment if he persisted: “Do you understand?” “I understand.”

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.

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