02/19/2020, 14.42
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He Weifang blames the spread of the coronavirus on government censorship

On WeChat, the renowned law scholar slams the dearth of information about the crisis. In his view, “without press freedom, people will live in distress and the government in mendacity.” A supporter of Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08, He calls for the implementation of the rule of law in China.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, has attacked the government for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19).

The lack of a freedom of speech and expression helped the spread of the virus, the scholar said on Monday in a post on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app.

In his view, errors by the government, especially the restrictions on the free flow of information, have magnified the crisis. This shows that China needs press freedom to deal with emergencies.

“I hope the heavy price [caused by the outbreak] will make Chinese authorities come to realise that without press freedom, people will live in distress and the government in mendacity,” he explained.

He is highly critical of President Xi Jinping for his late reaction to the Wuhan virus. A speech by Xi on 3 February, reported by several state media, suggests that he was already aware of the epidemic in early January, when he ordered his officials to take the necessary steps to counter it.

He lost his university professorship for supporting the well-known dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and signed Charter 08, a declaration drafted in December 2008 by intellectuals, including Liu, that calls for greater democracy and respect for human rights, and for this reason was censored by the government.

His younger brother, He Weitong, who works in legal publishing, was arrested last November for posting an Islamic State video on social media to protest the visit to Beijing by some Taliban officials.

Freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, human and trade union rights, as well as social protection are at the heart of He's demands for the rule of law in China.

Critical of his country's judicial system, considered too centralised and subordinated to the power of the Communist Party, He penned a piece for the South China Morning Post in August saying that “If China were to have had a comparably fair judicial system, the Hong Kong people would not have protested so vehemently against the extradition bill” introduced by the territory’s authorities.

He remains one of the few voices openly critical of China’s regime. But his words echo those of two other intellectuals.

Human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, also a former professor at Peking University, recently lashed out at Xi for his "inability" to handle the coronavirus crisis, the trade war with the US and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Xu was arrested last Saturday, in Guangzhou (Guangdong), during a "health check" to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Another law professor, Xu Zhangrun, from Tsinghua University, blamed the authorities for failing to tackle the epidemic crisis. According to Xu, the government's repressive and tyrannical action is the reason for the delayed response, which favoured the spread of COVID19.

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