A lawyer in the central Chinese province of Henan who was disciplined for writing on social media about the number of dead bodies being cremated in the central city of Wuhan has abandoned her appeal against the sanction.
Liu Yingying became the subject of a disciplinary action by the official lawyers' association in Henan's provincial capital, Zhengzhou, after she posted a photo of people lining up outside a Wuhan funeral home to her WeChat account.
The Zhengzhou Lawyers' Association, which is under the control of the municipal justice bureau and therefore the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has accused her of "provoking dissatisfaction with the government" after her post received more than half a million views and more than 10,000 retweets.
The association said its code of practice requires lawyers not to post "inappropriate comments" online.
Liu had cooperated with the investigation, admitted her mistake, deleted the post and reflected sincerely on her mistake, it said, adding that it would treat her with leniency in return.
Liu had originally lodged an appeal against the sanction, but reappeared on social media to say that she had now withdrawn it.
But she declined to comment when contact by RFA recently.
"Where are you calling from? The U.S.? I'm sorry, but I can't give interviews to U.S. journalists," Liu told RFA. "Sorry about that."
Pressure not to speak
A source in the legal profession said Liu is under pressure from government propaganda officials and police not to speak to anyone about the case.
"She had been posting a lot of stuff about the coronavirus epidemic online lately, and actually, we thought that a lot of what she was posting was factual," the source said.
"We also thought that she used appropriate language to describe these things, but controls on public expression are very tight right now, so even these things were banned," he said.
The source said the volume of Liu's posts and the fact that they reached large numbers of followers had also played a role in deciding the authorities' approach.
"Her law firm was constantly asking her to delete her posts, and had even asked her to move to a different law firm," the source said. "This is definitely the propaganda department that is behind this, either that or the departments in charge of stability maintenance."
The source said another lawyer from Zhengzhou, Zhang Zhan, had her license to practice revoked after she traveled to Wuhan and reported on the daily lives of people in the city under lockdown.
An official who answered the phone at the Zhengzhou Lawyers' Association declined to comment when contacted by RFA.
"What do you mean? I don't know anything about this," the official said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has targeted thousands of people for speaking out about the coronavirus epidemic in the country since it began in late December in the central city of Wuhan, according to a recent report by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network.
Since state news agency Xinhua first reported that President Xi Jinping would lead "a people's war" on the epidemic on Jan. 20, police had handled 5,111 cases of "fabricating and deliberately disseminating false and harmful information," according to a Feb. 21 statement from the ministry of public security.
CHRD said it has documented 897 cases between Jan. 1 and March 26 involving Chinese internet users penalized by police for their online speech or info-sharing about the coronavirus epidemic, based on official information in the public domain.
Some 18.5 percent of people were placed in administrative detention, which can be handed down to a maximum of 15 days without trial, while 17.8 received an "education reprimand," it said.
Charges used to question, detain, and arrest people included "rumor-mongering," "fabricating false information," “sowing panic,” “disturbing public order,” and "breach of privacy."
Cases in which people were accused of "spreading misinformation" or "disrupting public order" accounted for more than 96 percent of cases, the group said.
Citizen journalist and lawyer Chen Qiushi is still incommunicado since being taken away by police on Feb. 6 after he started livestreaming from hospitals in Wuhan.
Similar treatment was meted out to rights activist and citizen journalist Fang Bin, who was detained on Feb. 9, and to former anchor with state broadcaster CCTV, Li Zehua, who was detained on Feb. 26.
Reported by Wong Siu-san for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.