COVID-19 : Journalist who reported on COVID-19 in Wuhan sentenced

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Originally published by on January 4, 2021

SHANGHAI – Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday for “provoking altercations and seeking trouble” due to her reporting on the first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reported.

That newspaper, which quotes one of his lawyers, points out that Zhang refused to accept the charges, considering that his information – published through Chinese platforms such as WeChat and others banned in the country such as Twitter or YouTube – should not be censored.

According to Amnesty International (AI), his work in Wuhan focused on reporting the arrests of other independent reporters and harassment of relatives of coronavirus victims during what is considered the first global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) pointed out in September that the woman had been arrested for publishing that the citizens of Wuhan had received rotten food during the 11-week confinement that the city lived or that they were forced to pay fees to take tests. of the coronavirus.

The trial was held on Monday in a court in the eastern city of Shanghai – where the defendant has fixed her residence – with a strong police presence and with the assistance of only her relatives.

Zhang, who was arrested at the end of May, began a hunger strike in September that has caused her physical condition to be “very weak”, according to her defense, which claims that the authorities forcefully feed her through a tube and force her to carry shackles.

The US government said on Sunday that it had evidence that COVID-19 emerged in a Chinese laboratory.

Another of his lawyers revealed the intention of Zhang, 37, to continue with this hunger strike “even if he dies in prison” if the sentence was serious.

The Prosecutor’s Office had requested a sentence of between four and five years in prison for “repeatedly publishing a large number of false information” and accepting interviews with foreign media to “maliciously exaggerate” the situation of the coronavirus in Wuhan.

Human rights organizations protested the ruling: “The Chinese government has once again held a sham trial during Christmas as the authorities want to reduce attention to these ‘sensitive’ cases while diplomats and journalists are on vacation,” he explained. to Efe Leo Lan, CHRD researcher.

The live music event was held at a water park in Wuhan, China, on August 15.

In his opinion, the “harsh” condemnation of Zhang is “alarming” and is a sign that Beijing wants to “intimidate others into not drawing attention to the pandemic situation in Wuhan at the beginning of the year.”

For her part, AI activist Gwen Lee said in a statement that “citizen journalists like Zhang Zhan were the primary, if not the only, source of first-hand and uncensored information during the early days of COVID-19.” and demanded that the regime “stop persecuting journalists and other citizens just for reporting the truth.”

Other citizens who also narrated the news of Wuhan disappeared or were arrested this year, such as businessman Fan Bing, lawyer Chen Qiushi or young reporter Li Zehua, although the latter was released in April.

“Anyone who praises the ‘success’ of the Chinese government in containing the virus should take this into account. This is an integral part of the Chinese Communist Party’s pandemic control model,” the China researcher from Human Rights Watch (HRW) Yaqiu Wang.

In Wuhan, local authorities were slow to release some of the information available on the outbreak, because, according to the then mayor, Zhou Xianwang, they needed the approval of higher authorities to do so.

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