A citizen journalist who covered the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the height of the pandemic has been sentenced to four years in prison, AFP reported.
At a brief hearing in a Shanghai court, Zhang Zhan was sentenced for allegedly “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” during her reporting as the outbreak unfolded, according to one of her lawyers Zhang Keke.
Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer turned activist, had travelled to Wuhan in February. The 37-year-old’s live reports on the pandemic and the plight of residents in the central city were widely shared on social media platforms. Her reports had accused authorities of failing to inform residents of the reality of the situation, contrary to the rosy official narrative. Beijing has congratulated itself for the “extraordinary” success in controlling the infection to turn the response of citizens in their favour.
Her lawyer told AFP that the prosecution did not fully divulge its evidence during the “rushed hearing” against the citizen journalist. “We had no way of understanding what exactly Zhang Zhan was accused of doing,” he said.
Shao Wenxia, Zhang Zhan’s mother, cried loudly as the verdict was read out, Ren Quanniu, another member of the journalist’s defence team, told reporters.
Meanwhile, her legal team said that Zhang was suffering from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain after she started a hunger strike in June. “Restrained 24 hours a day, she needs assistance going to the bathroom, and she tosses and turns in her sleep,” the lawyer Zhang Keke said, according to BBC. “She feels psychologically exhausted, like every day is a torment.”
Zhang is the first among a group of four citizen journalists detained by authorities for their reporting from Wuhan to face trial. So far, eight whistleblowers have been punished for criticising the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak.