Chinese professor/lawyer detained for criticizing the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and for demanding free speech.

May 12, 2020

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Monday that Zhang Xuezhong, a constitutional professor and lawyer for human rights activists, has been detained and questioned by authorities after criticizing the Chinese government in an open letter.

The 43-year old was abducted on Sunday by security forces from his Shanghai home on Sunday night and held him for 24 hours. According to a friend of Zhang, “Three police cars came to his house,” he told the news outlet.

Zhang ‘s open letter was posted on WeChat and specifically addressed to representatives of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

In the letter, the professor wrote that “The best way to fight for freedom of expression is for everyone to speak as if we already have freedom of speech.” He also criticized China’s constitution as “backward” and argued that “The outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 epidemic is a good illustration of the problem.”

The letter has since been removed from all social media sites in China, but remains online outside of the communist country.

“Twenty-two days before the [lockdown] in the city, Wuhan was still investigating and punishing citizens who had disclosed the epidemic, including Dr. Li Wenliang … showing how tight and arbitrary the government’s suppression of society is,” Zhang wrote.

Zhang was referencing to the doctor that tried to warn the public about the dangers of the coronavirus during its initial outbreak in Wuhan. He was later arrested by the authorities died of the virus for “spreading rumors” and “making false comments.”

Dr. Li worked at the Wuhan Central Hospital where he contracted the coronavirus, and later died on February 07 at the age of 34.

Following Li’s death, the top two trending hashtags on China’s social media site Weibo were “Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang and apology” and “We want freedom of speech.”

SCMP attempted to call Zhang on several occasions after his release, but did not receive an answer. Messages sent to his WeChat account were also unanswered.

This was not Zhang’s first encounter with the authorities. In 2019, he was stripped of his licence to practice law after defending several human rights activists and human rights lawyers.