Armed with a zero-tolerance policy for nonconformists, China arrested one of its lawyers who questioned and criticised the Chinese government for the mishandling the coronavirus pandemic. Zhang Xuezhong, 43, was arrested and later released by the Chinese authorities.
China has remained in the thick of controversies ever since the first case of the global pandemic was reported from Wuhan province. While many believe that coronavirus was leaked from one of the labs based in Wuhan, China has unceasingly denied the same. The novel coronavirus has so far infected over 4.4 million people and killed more than 298,000 people across the globe.
Lawyer criticized suppression of free speech
The South China Morning Post reported that Zhang had posted a letter addressed to the National People's Congress (NPC) on WeChat, China's leading social media platform. In the letter, Zhang stated that China's absence of nonstate media and the prevention of medical experts from providing advice to the public showed that "the government's long-term tight control society and people has almost completely destroyed the organization and self-help capabilities of Chinese society."
Speaking about Dr. Li Wenliang , an ophthalmologist who first flagged the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in late December, Zhang wrote: "Twenty-two days before the [lockdown to contain the outbreak] in the city, Wuhan was still investigating and punishing citizens who had disclosed the epidemic, including Dr Li Wenliang ... showing how tight and arbitrary the government's suppression of society is."
Condemning the government further, the lawyer called China's government as backward and said that the outbreak was a good illustration of the problem. "The best way to fight for freedom of expression is for everyone to speak as if we already have freedom of speech." Zhang wrote on the WeChat post alongside the letter, on Saturday. The police arrested Zhang from his home, the next day.
Following his release after 24-hours, Zhang thanked his friends and supporters in a WeChat post made late on Monday. "I saw so many friends expressing concern for my current situation. Thank you very much. I am now at home and all is well. Good night everyone. I need to get some sleep first, apologies for not being able to reply to your messages," Zhang wrote.
Whistleblower, three activists still missing
Since the outbreak of the fatal virus, the China has come down heavily on those who have spoken against their measures in tackling the pandemic. SCMP stated that as per the reports from human rights activists, the country has arrested hundreds of doctors, journalists and lawyers, for merely speaking out about the virus. As per data provided by the China Digital Times, nearly 500 individuals have been charged with crimes for speaking out between 1 January- 4 April.
On April 19, three Beijing based activists, Chen Mei, Cai Wei and his girlfriend surnamed Tang went missing. The trio published censored articles on China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak on a crowd-sourced project called 'Terminus-2049'.
Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who uploaded videos on YouTube and Twitter, banned in China, while covering the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, has been missing since 86 days now. A recent twitter post made by his friend stated: "May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Citizen journalist Chen Qiushi has been silenced and disappeared. Where is he now? Chen Qiushi has been out of contact for 86 days after covering coronavirus in Wuhan. Please save him!!!
Prior to his disappearance, 34-year-old Chen, a lawyer and social activist, had revealed to VOA about his social media account which was created "outside the firewall". He had said that the twitter account would be managed by his trusted friends in case anything happened to him.