10 Wuhan professors signed an open letter demanding free speech protections after a doctor who was punished for warning others about coronavirus died from it

ktenbarge@businessinsider.com (Kat Tenbarge)
People attend a vigil to mourn for doctor Li Wenliang on February 7, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

  • An open letter signed by 10 Wuhan professors argues that the Chinese government needs to enforce its own freedom of speech articles in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. 
  • The letter follows the death of Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor who was reprimanded by police for "making false comments" after warning people about the Wuhan coronavirus – which he later contracted. 
  • The open letter, along with another letter signed by academics around China, demands that the government apologize to and compensate coronavirus whistleblowers and make Li a national martyr.
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At the onset of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, local doctor Li Wenliang warned his medical school alumni group about the discovery of a SARS-like illness via the messaging app WeChat. He was then reprimanded by Wuhan police and required to sign a letter acknowledging he had made "false comments" on the Chinese internet.

Li's warning proved to be true, and the Wuhan coronavirus has now killed at least 720 people and infected more than 34,500 around the globe. While treating patients, Li, 34, contracted the virus himself and died on February 6.

After his death, academics around China signed open letters addressing the Chinese government. 10 Wuhan professors signed one letter demanding the government enforce its own freedom of speech articles in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, along with apologizing to and compensating 8 coronavirus whistleblowers.

Screenshots disseminated on Twitter by French professor Sebastian Veg, who teaches the intellectual history of 20th century China, are purported to be taken from the Chinese internet. They show the signatures of the professors, along with excerpts of the open letter, which cites Articles 35 and 51 in the Chinese Constitution. 

Article 35 states that Chinese citzens "enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of profession, and of demonstration," while Article 51 says the exercise of Chinese citizens' rights "may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society, and of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens."

Doctor Li Wenliang was a Chinese ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital and a whistleblower who warned about the novel coronavirus outbreak but was summoned by police and admonished him for making false comments on the Internet.

Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

The open letter also asks that the Chinese government recognize Li as a national martyr. Another letter signed by 9 academics around China also asked that February 6 be made "National Freedom of Speech Day" in Li's honor. 

"For thirty years the Chinese have been made to surrender their freedom in exchange for safety, and now they fall prey to a public health crisis and are less safe than ever," the open letter reads, according to an English translation by the non-profit China Change. "A humanitarian disaster is upon us. The speed with which the rest of the world is repelled by China is faster than the spread of the virus, leaving China in an unprecedented global isolation."

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