Zhang Zhan: citizen journalist jailed for challenging China's virus story

Wednesday, 30 Dec, 2020

A court in Shanghai, China on Monday sentenced former lawyer and citizen journalist Zhang Zhan to four years in prison for her reporting on the coronavirus outbreak, a harsh sentence that legal scholars say is aimed at having a chilling effect on Chinese rights activists. Her dispatches were "fiercely critical" of the government, said the Times, and questioned its treatment of whistle-blowers as well as the appropriateness of the city's lockdown and whether it was too harsh.

Her supporters were said to have gathered outside the court on Monday morning before the trial began.

"Beijing's selection of the sleepy period between Christmas and New Year's suggests even it is embarrassed to sentence citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan to four years in prison for having chronicled the uncensored version of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan", he said.

Zhang's lawyer Ren Quanniu told Reuters: "We will probably appeal", adding that the trial at a court in Pudong, a district of the business hub of Shanghai, ended at 12.30 pm.

The lawyer also pointed out that the right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under Chinese law. He said her hands were tied to prevent her from removing the device, and that she suffered from constant headache and pain in her stomach and throat. "Restrained 24 hours a day, she needs assistance going to the bathroom, and she tosses and turns in her sleep", the lawyer Zhang Keke said, according to BBC.

Her lawyer told AFP that the prosecution did not fully divulge its evidence during the "rushed hearing" against the citizen journalist.

Several other people have mysteriously disappeared and one doctor, Li Wenliang, died from the disease after the government accused him of spreading misinformation.

She gave firsthand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets, giving a different picture of the pandemic epicentre than the official narrative Beijing allowed.

Her posts on YouTube reportedly "consist [ed] of interviews with residents, commentary and footage of a crematorium, train stations, hospitals and the Wuhan Institute of Virology". She is being forcibly fed by officials since starting a hunger strike in June.

Chinese state media have credited success in reining in the virus to the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

The others - Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua - have now stopped speaking out altogether. She appeared in wheelchair in her trial as a result of her hunger strike and has been force-fed by the authorities via a nasal tube. Her lawyer also said she "lost a significant amount of weight and was nearly unrecognizable from even just a few weeks before".