Zhang Z shout

Article

December 8, 2021

Zhang Zhan (Xianyang, September 2, 1983) is a Chinese citizen lawyer and journalist who was sentenced to four years in prison for her reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zhang Zhan was arrested in China, accused by the Chinese government of "spreading false news and disregarding sanitary protocols".

Journalism

Zhang traveled from Shanghai to Wuhan to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. Zhan recorded videos for YouTube of empty streets, overcrowded hospitals, interviews with residents, comments and footage from a crematorium, train stations, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. According to Zhang, the crematoria in Wuhan were open day and night, during a period when state media claimed the pandemic was under control.

Prison

Detention

Zhang was detained by police on May 14, 2020 and transported back to Shanghai. She was arrested without being formally charged until November. Zhan is one of several journalists, including Li Zehua, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, who disappeared at the same time. According to defense attorney Ren Quanniu, Zhang was tortured for three months before sentencing and kept in handcuffs 24 hours. Zhan has been on hunger strike since June 2020 and is being force-fed by a tube, with her hands tied to prevent her removal. The lawyer even described her as very weak, "In addition to the headache, dizziness and pain stomach, there was also pain in the mouth and throat. She said this could be an inflammation from the insertion of a gastric tube."

Judgment and sentence

She was accused of causing fights and causing trouble, and sentenced to four years in prison. According to The Guardian, "it is an accusation that the Chinese government often uses to arrest opponents." The ruling accused Zhang of speaking to foreign media such as Radio Free Asia and The Epoch Times and spreading false information about the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan. Zhang was also accused of making up two items in her Wuhan report; that residents were forced to pay a fee to get tested for COVID-19 and that residents confined to their homes received rotten vegetables from neighborhood committees. Zhang admitted all the material facts of the case but refused to plead guilty and said her information was not false. Supporters and a British diplomat were barred from entering the court during the trial, which lasted less than three hours in total. She was sentenced by a Shanghai court to four years in prison, making her the first journalist to be convicted of reporting on the pandemic in China.

Reactions

The British embassy in Beijing said her case "raises serious concerns about media freedom in China" and that she "is one of at least 47 journalists currently detained in China." The whereabouts of other citizen journalists - including Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin - are unknown." In December 2020, the EU demanded his release. According to Amnesty International, "citizen journalists are one of the only sources of uncensored information about the pandemics in China, however, are very few due to denial of credentials to them.” In a joint letter to Chinese leader Xi Jinping posted on September 17, 2021, a coalition of 45 non-governmental organizations, including Reporters Without Borders ( RSF) called for Zhang to be released "immediately" due to her state of health. The head of RSF's East Asia branch, Cédric Alviani, said Zhang "should never have been arrested, let alone subjected to a harsh sentence in prison.” In November 2021, RSF announced Zhang as a nominee for the organization's press freedom award for courage, in recognition of her journalistic work, being announced as the one week recipient later.

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