Arrested whistleblower doctor not wrong for warning about Wuhan virus, China top court slams police

He has cleared his name and is now vindicated.

Belmont Lay | February 01, 2020, 07:09 PM

A doctor in Wuhan, China who is believed to have been one of the eight people arrested and punished by local police for spreading rumours about a virus outbreak in the city, has been vindicated by the country's top court, according to Caixin Global.

The ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, is now hailed as the whistleblower that citizens and authorities should have listened to early on when the novel coronavirus outbreak first emerged in China.

With this change in fortune and having cleared his name, Li said he will return to the front lines and continue fighting the virus once he recovers fully.

Top court slams police in rare move

In what can be considered a rare move, the doctor was thrust into the national spotlight after China’s top court openly criticised the Wuhan police publicly on Jan. 28 for reprimanding eight citizens for “spreading rumors” about an illness in late December 2019.

The criticism dished out by the top court was put up in a post on its official WeChat account.

Even though the police did not identify specifically those accused or punished, Li is considered to be one of the eight.

The doctor suspected that he was infected after treating a patient.

Court said whistleblowers were not wrong

China’s Supreme People’s Court said, in retrospect, the eight Wuhan citizens should not have been punished as what they said was not entirely false.

“It might have been a fortunate thing if the public had believed the ‘rumors’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitisation measures, and avoid the wild animal market,” the top court’s social media account said on Tuesday, as reported by Caixin.

What happened to doctor

On Dec. 30, Li sent a message in his medical school alumni WeChat group to warn about seven patients put up in isolation wards in the ophthalmology department in his hospital.

The patients were from a local seafood market who were diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

A screenshot of the message was leaked.

Li was then summoned by the hospital’s inspection unit where he was spoken to.

On Jan. 3, he was called in by the local police and reprimanded for spreading rumors online and disrupting social order.

A few days after the police summons, Li continued to treat patients.

One patient initially came in for glaucoma, but then developed a fever.

The patient was diagnosed with pneumonia after a lung scan.

On Jan. 12, Li felt unwell and was suspected to have contracted the virus as well.

He was moved to an isolation ward, Li told Caixin.

His parents were also infected and sent to the hospital.

On Jan. 30, Li said that his test result had come back negative, but he remained in the isolation ward.

By this time in end-January, news had been reported internationally that China had arrested whistleblowers who warned about the novel coronavirus, sparking condemnation from critics who fear a cover-up of a potential pandemic.

It was initially thought that those whistleblowers were reporters or activists, but it has now transpired at least one of them is a medical professional.

Other rumours currently circulating in China is that all eight arrested are doctors.

Doctor now relieved his name has been cleared

Li also told Caixin that he had been worried the hospital would punish him for “spreading rumors”.

But he now felt relieved after the top court publicly criticised the police.

“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,” said Li, according to Caixin.

He also clarified that rumors saying his medical license was suspended are not true.

He added that justice for himself was not the main priority, which is why he did not plan to go through official judicial channels to get an explanation, citing it will be troublesome: “It’s more important that people know the truth, justice is less important to me.”

Caixin Global is the English-language arm of Beijing-based financial media outlet Caixin Media.