China is being accused of using the coronavirus pandemic to silence dissidents by putting critics of the government in "quarantine" that strongly resemble house arrest and keeping them from their families.

Quarantine after imprisonment

According to the New York Times, one of the most prominent human rights lawyers in China, Wang Quanzhang, thought he was finally free when he was released from prison. Wang was held for nearly five years for subversion charges.

Police officers escorted the lawyer to an apartment building in the city of Jinan. He was given a room where the windows were equipped with iron bars. At least 20 officers surrounded the building and confiscated his mobile phone. Authorities later restricted and monitored his use of the communication device.

Effectively, the Chinese government placed Wang under house arrest but covered it up in the name of "quarantine" to ensure public health safety.

Several human rights activists say Beijing uses the coronavirus pandemic as a cover-up for silencing or detaining dissidents. Summary quarantines are being imposed on detainees who have just cleared a previous one.

The strategy is thought to be part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's latest campaign to punish opposition and activists against the government's decisions.

Before the coronavirus pandemic started, China had already been conducting intensive crackdown measures on human rights. Activists had called the moves the government's most aggressive actions since 1989 when the Tiananmen Square protests ended.

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The Chinese government frequently detains activists in what they consider quarantine without notifying the families of the victims.

The Deputy Director of research, Frances Eve of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said the detainees are kept from communicating with anyone from the outside and are held inside secret locations without allowing them to isolate themselves inside their own homes.

Government efforts

In recent weeks, China has been escalating its efforts in fighting and silencing dissidents. Xu Zhangrun, a prominent legal scholar, was among the few academics in the country who openly criticize President Xi and the Chinese government. Previously, police officers had detained Xu in what is considered to be proof of the change of times since Xi's presidency.

Becoming famous in 2018, Xu denounced Xi's policies that the critic called hard-lined in an essay he wrote, which was described as a rare criticism of the most powerful man in China since the legendary Mao Zedong, as reported by World Politics Review.

The coronavirus pandemic has also caused human rights violations in China to take the spotlight. However, the Chinese government's drastic measures in trying to control the virus are seen by some as coming at a high price.

According to Aljazeera, a 34-year-old doctor, Li Wenliang, who was among the first to try and raise awareness of the mysterious new virus before the beginning of the outbreak, had lost his life to the pandemic.

Nicholas Bequelin, the regional director of Amnesty International, stated that Li's case was a tragic reminder of the focus of the Chinese government in keeping private the crucial information about public interests.

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