Story at a glance
- Dr. Li Wenliang died after he was infected by the virus while treating patients.
- His death sparked a swell of grief and outrage on Chinese social media sites.
- Chinese authorities vowed to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public.”
The death of a Chinese doctor who was silenced by authorities for warning others about the threat of the deadly coronavirus has sparked widespread outrage and grief in China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed Thursday that Dr. Li Wenliang died after contracting the virus while treating patients in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Li reportedly posted about the signs of the new virus on an online chat group for fellow doctors at the end of December as the outbreak was beginning. He was then detained by police and accused of spreading “rumors.” He was released on Jan. 3 after signing a document saying he committed “illegal acts,” according to the Washington Post.
His punishment has been criticized by many, who say Chinese authorities could have acted faster and been more transparent to stop the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 31,000 people and killed more than 630 in China. It has spread across 25 countries and territories, with 12 cases confirmed in the U.S.
As news of Li’s death spread, social media sites swelled with expressions of grief and support, as well as criticism of censorship by the Chinese government.
His death became the top trending topic on Chinese social media, with the news garnering an estimated 1.5 billion views, according to the BBC. “Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang an apology,” and “We want freedom of speech,” were among the trending hashtags on Chinese social media. But the BBC reports both hashtags were quickly censored.
Government officials, business figures and ordinary citizens posted online messages expressing their anger over the silencing of the doctor by authorities.
“I haven’t seen my WeChat timeline filled with so much forlornness and outrage,” Xu Danei, a founder of a social media analytics company, wrote on the messaging platform WeChat, according to the New York Times.
“Tonight is a monumental moment for our collective conscience,” he wrote in a later post.
Amid growing backlash from the Chinese public, the country’s government has said it will investigate what it called “issues related to Dr. Li Wenliang that were reported by the public.”