As a global team of researchers sent to Wuhan by the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic left quarantine to begin its work this week, a campaigning family member of a man who died in the first wave of the pandemic has warned that the team risks becoming a propaganda tool of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Zhang Hai, who has filed a compensation lawsuit alleging that the government’s attempt to cover up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the early stages led to the death of his father, spoke to RFA’s Mandarin Service about his struggle to be heard in the face of the official narrative:
RFA: Have you had any response from the Chinese government about your request to meet with the WHO team?
Zhang Hai: Actually I get the feeling that the Wuhan authorities are extremely nervous, because a lot of the platforms I was using to speak out have been closed down. A group chat set up on Jan. 16 or 17 for family members [of COVID-19 victims] has been shut down; it had more than 100 people in it. I think other family members are having the same problem.
RFA: What do you want to say to the experts who are in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the virus?
Zhang Hai: I hope that the Wuhan municipal government can hold a meeting between the WHO experts and the family members [of victims]. I want to ask if the WHO experts are actually courageous enough to meet with us and listen to us talk about our terrible experiences during that time. The victims of the [initial] outbreak were the people of Wuhan, and [some of us] paid with our lives.
If they won’t meet with us, then it’ll be clear to me that the WHO team are here to lie to the world. I hope that they will stay true to their consciences and really try to get to the truth. Because up until now, the Wuhan city authorities have yet to admit to its criminal under-reporting [of the initial outbreak], and has taken no responsibility. We have only had excuses from them. It would be a huge insult to those who have died if the WHO experts were to repeat [the government’s] lies.
RFA: The WHO has repeatedly said the experts are there purely to trace the origin of the virus, not to hold the Chinese government accountable. What do you think of that?
Zhang Hai: I am not optimistic about the WHO. I think it’s very bureaucratic. To my mind, an organization like that should be independent and not susceptible to outside influence. I hope these experts won’t abandon their consciences and start telling lies. Temporary cover-ups … won’t stand the test of time.
RFA: You have insisted on holding both the governments of Hubei province and Wuhan to account. How has that been going?
Zhang Hai: I’m now suing the Supreme People’s Court as well. I feel that the government has evaded our lawsuit, while also shutting down all of the voices demanding accountability. It now pretends that our group doesn’t exist, and they drag their feet and use delaying tactics, while trying to vaunt their achievements in fighting the pandemic. This kind of propaganda is disrespectful to the dead. I hope to let them know through the media that we have been speaking out and pursuing those responsible. We definitely won’t give up.
All the families of the victims are completely blocked [from social media] in China now. I have always thought this wasn’t normal. Every life is precious. A country is made up of its people, so it should at the very least treat its people well … and give us some kind of response, or it’s going to alienate even more people.
Reported by Yi Bing for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.