China: Doctor’s death highlights human rights failings in coronavirus outbreak

Responding to the death of Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who was reprimanded by Wuhan police after he tried to issue the first warnings about the novel coronavirus and was then diagnosed with the virus himself, Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said:

“The case of Li Wenliang is a tragic reminder of how the Chinese authorities’ preoccupation with maintaining ‘stability’ drives it to suppress vital information about matters of public interest.

“China must learn the lesson from Li’s case and adopt a rights-respecting approach to combating the epidemic. Nobody should face harassment or sanctions for speaking out about public dangers, just because it may cause embarrassment to the government.”


Li Wenliang contracted the novel coronavirus while working at Wuhan Central Hospital. He sent out a warning to fellow medics in late December 2019 about patients with symptoms similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that began in southern China in 2002. He was immediately silenced and punished by the local authorities for “spreading rumours”.

The effects of the virus have since been confirmed to have killed more than 600 people and infected more than 30,000 in mainland China, although the real numbers may be far higher.

For more information on how the coronavirus connects to human rights, read the Explainer: seven ways the coronavirus affects human rights