02/01/2021, 10.40
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Rumors about the pandemic repressed while WHO experts are in Wuhan

Two women who were seeking transparency on vaccination campaign have disappeared. Sentences for journalists and activists. Lawyers and human rights activists also targeted. WHO experts visit the Wuhan fish market, which some believe the epicentre of the virus.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The authorities continue to crack down on dissent linked to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. This despite the presence of World Health Organization experts in Wuhan, called to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, reports Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) in its latest report on respect for human rights in China, published yesterday.

Hua Xiuzhen, a Shanghai woman, went missing on January 13 after being arrested in Yangpu City District. Hua has called for greater government transparency in the vaccination programs, such as the one for Covid. A similar request was made by He Fangmei, a Henan citizen who disappeared from circulation last October. Both have children who were left debilitated after injecting a defective vaccine.

The government's muffling of public discourse on the pandemic has also hit journalists. Zhang Zhan, who recounted the lockdown in Wuhan, has been sentenced to four years in prison for "creating disorder". There has been no news of her colleagues Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi for some time.

Chen Mei and Cai Wei, two activists who tried to safeguard information about the pandemic censored by the authorities, are still under arrest. Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi are also in prison for criticizing the way Xi Jinping handled the health emergency. Xu and Ding are two well-known exponents of the New Citizens Movement.

The regime also targeted some human rights lawyers. On January 15, Lu Siwei had his license to practice legal revoked. His colleague Ren Quanniu is instead under disciplinary proceedings. Lu and Ren defended some of the 12 Hong Kong democracy activists arrested in Guangdong in August. Another lawyer, Xi Xiangdong, risks losing his professional license: he has represented several families who have been abused by the authorities, in addition to the well-known dissident Wang Quanzhang.

Guo Feixiong, a prisoner of conscience imprisoned for six years and under constant police supervision since his release in August 2019, also disappeared on January 29. Guo began a hunger strike on January 28; he was in Shanghai's Pudong airport. The authorities prevented him from joining his wife, who has cancer, in the US.

The government crackdown comes as the WHO investigative team continues to gather information on the spread of Covid in Wuhan, where the lung disease first appeared. Yesterday, amid tight police checks, the 14 experts visited the Huanan fish market, from where some suspect the virus has spread.

Investigators requested access to two city epidemiology laboratories. However, several observers doubt that the Chinese government will fully cooperate with WHO experts. Family members of Covid-19 victims in Wuhan are demanding to meet the WHO team. The Chinese government has ignored their request: a further obstacle to the carrying out of the international mission.

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