A too-harsh crackdown on online rumours during China’s deadly viral epidemic had undermined public trust, the country’s top court said on Wednesday, in a highly rare rebuke of the police force.
China has been battling the spread of infection that has surpassed the global reach of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03.
Authorities informed the World Health Organization about the new virus on the December 31, 2019. A day later, eight people were punished by police for claiming online that Wuhan was in the grip of a fresh SARS outbreak.
The group were reprimanded for “publishing or forwarding false information on the internet without verification”, a police statement at the time said.
But Supreme Court judge Tang Xinghua wrote on Wednesday that officers should have been more lenient.
“If the public had believed these ‘rumours’ at the time, and carried out measures like wearing masks, strictly disinfecting and avoiding wildlife markets… it might have been a good thing,” he said.