A retired professor in his 70s was recently handed a 3 1/2-year prison sentence in China for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and calling COVID-19 the “CCP virus.”
Chen Zhaozhi, who formerly taught at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, drew the regime’s ire in the early pandemic days for saying the virus was “not a Chinese virus but a CCP virus” and sharing posts discussing the severity of the outbreak in the country.
Chinese authorities arrested him in March 2020, accusing him of “fabricating” and “deliberately spreading false information.” Mr. Chen was sentenced on Sept. 8 for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” an umbrella charge Beijing frequently levies against critics. He was freed a day after the court verdict.
“I, Chen Zhaozhi, am back—and back alive,” he said in a phone-recorded video obtained by The Epoch Times.
Mr. Chen was seated in a rolling chair in his home. Although smiling, he said his health condition is “very poor” and that he can’t stand up without aid.
A Chinese lawyer familiar with Mr. Chen’s situation told The Epoch Times that Mr. Chen suffers from Alzheimer's disease, which worsened while he was held in prison. He asked for medical parole multiple times to no avail.
“It’s political prosecution,” the lawyer said in an interview, requesting anonymity to speak freely.
Another lawyer, who also requested that his name not be disclosed, said that the label “CCP virus” has been a trigger word for the regime.
“This is what they fear the most,” he told The Epoch Times. “The last thing a thief wants is to be called out.”
A friend of Mr. Chen’s who called him after his release said his ability to converse has considerably slowed compared with three years ago. But that apparently hasn't made authorities less watchful: Government employees sit in front of his apartment building to monitor his comings and goings, according to the friend.
The friend said that exactly what Mr. Chen underwent in prison remains unclear but that he now depends entirely on his wife for his basic needs.
Mr. Chen, in his friend's description, is a “very warm-hearted man,” always willing to lend a hand to the petitioners, helping them financially and contributing ideas to help advance their case.
“It’s speech crime,” the friend told The Epoch Times about Mr. Chen's case. “To comment on the pandemic—this is a taboo for the authorities.”
He said he believes that authorities wanted to make an example of Mr. Chen because of his influence in society.
Calls for AccountabilityRep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), an outspoken critic of the CCP, said the punishment Beijing inflicted on Mr. Chen is a reminder of the regime’s suppressive nature and its role in the spread of the pandemic that has now killed millions globally.
“I think we have not been aggressive enough in exposing the CCP’s coverup of the origin of the pandemic, but it doesn't surprise me that they'd be cracking down on any dissent—if you look at the lengths they went to not only suppress information in the early stages of the pandemic but also to corrupt our own scientific community here in America,” Mr. Gallagher, who leads the House Select Committee on the CCP, told The Epoch Times.
“It's a classic example of the CCP influence that had a devastating effect on the global economy.”
Three years on, the regime has maintained a tight grip on information, be it about the pandemic or anything else, resisting any effort to probe how COVID-19 began.
It's all the more reason for the outside world to take action, Mr. Gallagher said.
“We should be sanctioning Chinese entities—doing more to hold those entities accountable that were complicit in the COVID coverup.”