Dr. Li Wen­liang, the oph­thal­mol­ogist who warned his fellow cit­izens about the coro­n­avirus, died from the disease on Feb. 7. When he spoke up in concern for public health and safety, China again demon­strated itself to be an oppressive regime as it sought to keep him silent.

In an online chat room, Li told medical school stu­dents about the coro­n­avirus, saying that it was similar to the Severe Acute Res­pi­ratory Syn­drome disease which hit China in 2002 and 2003. At this point, the coro­n­avirus had not yet been iden­tified, but he took mea­sures to warn others about its potential danger.

The Chinese gov­ernment should have applauded his heroic efforts. Instead, offi­cials sum­moned him in early January and accused him of “making false state­ments” that “dis­turbed the social order.”

China demon­strated to the world in this sit­u­ation that it doesn’t care about the safety of its people or the freedom of speech and infor­mation. Offi­cials care more about main­taining an image of a perfect society, an image they can use to fuel pro­pa­ganda and support their author­i­tarian regime.

And the Chinese people rec­ognize their government’s thinly veiled attempts to impose its will on the cit­izens. People took to Weibo, a social media website, with rage after the news of Li’s death, calling on offi­cials to apol­ogize for their treatment of him. According to the BBC, hashtags demanding gov­ernment account­ability and freedom of speech were trending, but by Friday morning, hun­dreds of thou­sands of com­ments had been removed.

A nation’s public ser­vants have a respon­si­bility to protect their con­stituents, not just in war but also during major threats to public health. China would rather pretend that nothing’s rotten in the state of Denmark. 

But no one buys it.