Chinese Journalist Sentenced Four Years for Reporting Early on COVID-19 in Wuhan

Zhan was charged for ‘picking fights and provoking trouble.'
Christopher McFadden

A Chinese citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan, has been sentenced to four years in prison for her reporting on COVID-19 in Wuhan earlier this year. The sentence came on Monday this week.


Zhan was charged for "picking fights and provoking trouble"

Back in February of 2020, Zhan, a former-lawyer, had traveled to Wuhan and posted various information on social media about the outbreak. She was later arrested in May this year as part of China's ruling Communist Party's (CCP) attempt to curb the outbreak and control information flow out of the country. 

She was formerly arrested in Shanghai in June under charges of sending "false information through text, video and other media through [platforms like] WeChat, Twitter, and YouTube".

Zhan was also accused of accepting interviews with foreign media outlets and "maliciously spreading" information about the virus in Wuhan.

covid-19 journalist jailed
Screenshot of Zhang from her YouTube channel. Source: 张展/YouTube

Zhang, 37, was then later reported to have undergone a prolonged hunger strike while in detention. This prompted authorities to begin a program of force-feeding to keep her alive. 

According to some sources like CBS, her legal representative, Zhang Keke, revealed that Zhang was restrained 24 hours a day with a belt around her waist and hands to prevent her from removing the feeding tube. 

“In addition to headache, dizziness, and stomach pain, there was also a pain in her mouth and throat. She said this may be inflammation due to the insertion of a gastric tube," Zhang Keke reported.  

Zhang is not the only journalist facing imprisonment

Zhang is one of several citizen journalists whose early work provided the outside world with tantalizing information about the turmoil in Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic. Another journalist, Chen Qiushi was also detained in February this year, as well as Li Zehua and a Wuhan resident Fang Bin. Zehua was later released in April.

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Chen Qiushi has been placed under government supervision and Fang Bin's whereabouts are currently known, according to the BBC

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Screenshot from Zhang's last video upload to YouTube. Source: 张展/YouTube

Since the start of the current COVID-19 outbreak, China has been accused of covering up information during the initial outbreak and delaying the release of other crucial information. 

Beijing has denied this and says that it took swift action that allowed for the rest of the world to prepare. 

Information is tightly controlled by the CCP in China who regularly seeks to block the spread of any information it hasn't approved for release. This was clearly demonstrated in the early days of the outbreak with the reprimand of several Wuhan doctors for "rumor-mongering". 

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Her last tweet was posted in May of this year. Source: 张展/Twitter

The best known being  Li Wenliang who later died from COVID-19. 

Ms. Zhan has run into trouble with the Chinese authorities on several occasions in the past too. According to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), she was summoned by the police in Shanghai in September 2019 and detained for voicing support for activities in Hong Kong.

She is also undergoing psychiatric examination while in detention, reports the BBCGiven Zhang's apparent poor health, a lengthy prison sentence will not be welcome news for her friends and family.

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