Zhang Zhan, a Chinese journalist who actively documented the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan last year, has been sentenced to four years imprisonment. A Shangai Court found Zhang guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” on Monday; Zhang Keke, one of the journalist’s lawyers, said on Monday. The charges against Zhang were not specific as the Chinese government frequently uses similar charges against activists and dissidents, CNN reports.
Zhang, who was previously a lawyer, traveled to Wuhan as an independent journalist in February. She went to the city to document the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and steps to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the country. During that time, the Chinese government had just started cracking down on state-owned and private media outlets that were revealing details of the outbreak.
Zhang worked in Wuhan till May, giving details of the life of residents of the city during the lockdown. She showed pictures and videos of hospitals that were filled beyond capacity, empty streets and business places, and other difficulties the residents of the city were facing during the lockdown. She reported all her findings on WeChat, YouTube, and Twitter. Around Mid-May, she stopped posting on the platforms, and it was later revealed that she had been arrested and returned to Shanghai, the Guardian writes.
Amnesty International revealed that Zhang was bound and force-fed in detention because she went on a hunger strike. Her lawyer, Zhang Keke, also said that Zhang appeared to have lost so much weight and had a feeding tube attached to her mouth and nostrils when he visited her in detention earlier this month. The lawyer stated that Zhang was going through emotional distress that caused frequent headaches and other ailments.
The Asian country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not responded to the claims that she was tortured and maltreated in detention. Zhang’s lawyer described the journalist’s frail condition during Monday’s hearing. According to him, Zhang was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair.
The prosecutors stated that Zhang “reported huge amounts of false information” and granted interviews to foreign news agencies such as Radio Free Asia, to overstate the situation in Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak in the city. The defense lawyers, however, stated that the prosecutors failed to provide solid evidence, to the court, to back up their claims about the “false information” that the journalist was accused of reporting.
Zhang is the first journalist to be sentenced for revealing details of the outbreak that the Chinese government was allegedly trying to cover up, but she is not the only one who has been arrested. Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, and Fang Bin, all independent reporters who covered the situation of Wuhan during the outbreak, have been detained on similar charges.
The Chinese government is still cracking down on local and foreign media outlets for trying to report its response to the outbreak and how things could have turned out differently for the over 1 million people who have lost their lives to the pandemic. State-owned media agencies in the country are currently trying to give a different version of the origin of the pandemic, making claims that the pandemic did not originate from Wuhan.