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Probe finds reprimand of doctor inappropriate

A makeshift memorial for late doctor Li Wenliang at an entrance to the Central Hospital of Wuhan in Central China’s Hubei province on February 7, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

An investigation has concluded that police inappropriately took action to reprimand Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan, Hubei province, who sounded an early alarm on the novel coronavirus, for “spreading fake information on the internet”.

A report of the investigation, released on Thursday evening, said Li made a positive contribution to epidemic control work and that the local public security authorities should revoke the letter of reprimand issued to Li and apologize to his family.

Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, was among the few people who tried to warn about the novel coronavirus on social media in late December. He died of the virus on Feb 7.

His death triggered great sorrow among the public, and many people believed he was wrongfully accused of “spreading rumors”. On the same day, the National Supervisory Commission decided to send a team to Wuhan to investigate issues regarding his death.

After about 40 days of investigation, the team concluded that Li had no intention of disturbing public order, but instead had wanted to warn his colleagues about the new disease. His action, which drew public attention to the disease, made a positive contribution, the report said.

However, the Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases has strict requirements on the reporting, verification and release of epidemic information.

As a result, the police investigation into the matter was carried out in accordance with the law, a statement released by the investigation team said. Some of the information Li passed on was inconsistent with the findings at that time, it said, and the information had not been verified by the authorities or experts.

But the action taken by the police to reprimand Li was inappropriate, and the law enforcement procedure was also not up to standards, according to the report of the investigation.

It also said that although Li had been labeled as a “hero” by some hostile forces that aim to attack the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government, “Li was a member of the Communist Party of China and not a so-called figure against China’s system”.

“This is completely contrary to the facts,” it said.

These forces’ intentions to confuse people and stir up public emotions will never be achieved, the report said.

The investigation report gave a detailed account of Li’s case.

In December, seven cases of an unknown pneumonia were reported by a hospital in Wuhan. The Wuhan Health Commission then sent two documents on Dec 30 to health departments alerting them about the disease and requiring them to look for pneumonia cases related to Huanan Seafood Market. The two documents were posted on the internet on the same day.

Also on Dec 30, Li received information from his colleagues regarding the unknown pneumonia. He then said in online WeChat groups that “seven severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) cases from Huanan Seafood Market have been confirmed”, “the infection is caused by coronavirus” and “please don’t spread the information, while also asking your families to take precautions”.

Li’s words and the two documents then began to be circulated on social media and triggered heated discussion about the unknown pneumonia, which is now known as the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. On Dec 31, the Wuhan Health Commission published a statement saying that the cases were viral pneumonia and no clear human-to-human transmission was found.

On Jan 3, Li was summoned to Zhongnan Street Police Station in Wuhan, where officers talked with him about “spreading fake information on the internet”. He was reprimanded, but not fined or detained.

The letter of reprimand issued to Li was signed by a police officer surnamed Hu and another officer surnamed Xu, but actually Xu wasn’t there at the time, according to the investigation.

Following the release of the investigation report, the Wuhan Public Security Bureau announced on Thursday night that Li’s letter of reprimand had been revoked. The bureau also sincerely apologized to Li’s family.

Yang Li, deputy head of the police station, had received administrative punishment for wrongful application of the law and failing to supervise the law enforcement work of the station’s officers.

Hu, the officer, also received a warning for substandard law enforcement procedures and issuing the letter of reprimand.

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