CHINESE people are being threatened with seven years in prison if they dare to share news about the killer epidemic unfolding around them on social media.
The draconian punishment has been introduced as information and images have been leaking out which lay bare the extent of the coronavirus crisis — and the desperate measures to bring it under control.
For while the ruling Chinese Communist Party is battling coronovirus, it also wants to control what people know about.
In the country’s People Daily — a newspaper which like all other news outlets is state-controlled — ran an article warning people of spreading "rumours" on social media.
It declared those who "disrupt social order" by posting on social media information other than official sources risk up to seven years behind bars.
China’s huge online censorship system, which is known as the Great Firewall, is used to block any information the government deems to be “rumour” — or not a government source.
But footage showing how the government is dealing with the coronavirus crisis has been leaking out.
Authorities should recognise that censorship only fuels public distrust, and instead encourage civil society engagement and media reporting on this public health crisis.
Some traumatic clips have been posted by hospital workers to expose how they are struggling to cope.
Other filmed by citizens and posted online has shown people being violently forced to wear masks as well as being barricaded in their own homes all in a bid to stop the spread of the infections.
But the authorities are cracking down on what has been appearing on social media.
It emerged that eight medics raised the alarm on the coronavirus in December on a medical school’s alumni group on WeChat, a popular social network in China.
The whistleblowers from Wuhan have since been detained.
And yesterday we reported how a man, called Fang Bin, was tracked down and arrested after filming a covert video showing the true scale of the coronavirus as body bags pile up inside a Wuhan hospital.
The images from inside a medical facility in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the deadly viral outbreak, shows covered bodies lining corridors as staffers and patients walk the halls with masks on.
But Human Rights Watch has said in recent weeks, police across China have detained dozens of people for their online posts related to the virus.
Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: "Authorities should recognise that censorship only fuels public distrust, and instead encourage civil society engagement and media reporting on this public health crisis.
"The coronavirus outbreak requires a swift and comprehensive response that respects human rights."
To fight negative commentary being spread by social media the government owned media has stepped up their propaganda, showing just how well it has been responding.
This has included numerous videos of the new 1,000 hospital which has now been completed in Wuhan.
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