China’s top disciplinary body called on Wuhan police to withdraw a reprimand against a whistle-blowing local doctor, as authorities sought to neutralize an emotional symbol of efforts to suppress warnings about the deadly virus sweeping the globe.
A month-long investigation found that a police summons accusing ophthalmologist Li Wenliang of “spreading fake information on the internet” was inappropriate, the National Supervisory Commission said in a statement released Thursday. The commission urged authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan to revoke the reprimand letter and hold relevant people accountable.
Li, 34, had become a folk hero after being punished, along with another seven doctors, for speaking up about a mysterious new pneumonia they encountered in Wuhan -- where the pathogen was first identified in humans. The findings had been anticipated since investigators were dispatched to probe circumstances leading up to the Feb. 7 death of Li from the same virus he had warned about.
The virus has spread to infect more than 200,000 people around the world, trigging business closures, disrupting travel and pushing the globe to the brink of recession. As China’s own outbreak slows, President Xi Jinping has sought to counter criticism of his government’s early response.
Still, the National Supervisory Commission stopped short of recommending disciplinary action against top Wuhan officials as many residents had demanded on social media.
“Some people might be dissatisfied with the decision which only requests to revoke the reprimand order,” the Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party, said after the statement Thursday. “After the epidemic concludes, the country will conduct a comprehensive review and reflection, when the accountability mechanisms will certainly not be overlooked.”
In recent weeks, Xi’s government has acknowledged initial shortcomings by local authorities, replacing top officials in Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei. Earlier this month, the National Health Commission commended Li along with more than 500 other medical personnel for his outstanding performance and dedication in the fight against the epidemic.
In a question-and-answer document released Thursday, the National Supervisory Commission’s investigation group disputed what it said were efforts to make Li into an anti-government symbol.
“Some hostile forces have labeled Dr. Li Wenliang a ‘hero’ and a ‘awakener’ to confront the system,” the body said. “This is totally untrue. Li Wenliang is a Communist Party member, not a so-called anti-institutional figure. Those forces with ulterior motives to fan the flames of unrest, mislead the public and stir up social emotions are doomed to fail.”
The Wuhan Public Security Bureau later issued a statement saying it had formally withdrawn the reprimand and apologized to Li’s family. “The handling was improper, the application of law was wrong and law enforcement procedures were not standard,” the bureau said in a statement.
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