A Chinese journalist was reportedly arrested after “reporting the truth” about the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. As a result, she was sentenced to four years in jail.
Zhang Zhan, 37, has apparently been found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for her scathing criticism of the Wuhan government’s handling of the crisis during the outbreak’s peak.
Zhang—the first recorded citizen journalist known to have been put on trial—was among a handful of people whose firsthand experience of crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dreadful picture of the pandemic epicenter than the official narrative suggested.
Criticism of China’s early handling of the crisis has largely been censored, and whistleblowers such as doctors and citizen journalists have been warned not to speak out about what they know.
The Chinese state media has credited the success of mitigating the effects of the virus to President Xi Jinping.
A New York-based human-rights organization shared with MailOnline that Zhang was being punished for “doing exactly what the world desperately needed: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan.”
The Daily Mail reported:
Home to some 11 million people, the Chinese provincial capital caught international attention last December when coronavirus first broke out there before spreading around the globe, with at least 1.7 million reported deaths so far.
In Shanghai, police enforced tight security outside the court where the trial opened seven months after Ms Zhang’s detention, although some supporters were undeterred.
A man in a wheelchair, who came from the central province of Henan to demonstrate support for Ms Zhang as a fellow Christian, wrote her name on a poster before police arrived to escort him away.
A lawyer, Zhang arrived in Wuhan on February 1 from her home in Shanghai. The short video clips she uploaded to YouTube consist of interviews with residents, commentary and footage of a crematorium, train stations, hospitals, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
She has allegedly been held in jail since mid-May and later went on a hunger strike. Her lawyers shared with the court that the authorities had strapped her hands and force-fed her with a tube, according to the Daily Mail.
In December, she began suffering from headaches, giddiness, stomachache, low blood pressure, and a throat infection. It was also reported that her restraint belts had made it difficult to sleep at night and she needed assistance for the toilet, according to a Chinese website that publishes updates about activists.
According to Weiquan Net, Zhang’s persecution documents were released by the People’s Procuratorate of Pudong New District of Shanghai in mid-September.
One of the official files accused Zhang of “maliciously hyping the epidemic of the novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan” through popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, as well as Twitter and YouTube.
The prosecutor also claimed that Zhang had spread “a large amount of false information” through text and videos and accepted interviews with foreign media outlets.
Zhang is not the only citizen journalist to have been caught by the Chinese authorities. A number of them have disappeared without knowledge of their whereabouts. Among these include Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi, and Li Zehua.