Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was arrested for her livestream reporting on coronavirus from Wuhan, has been found guilty and has been sentenced to jail for four years, her lawyer said on Monday. It was expected that Zhang would be jailed given that her original reports on the coronavirus exposed a lot about the negligence of Chinese authorities in the initial stages of the outbreak.
The sentencing comes almost a year after Zhang livestreamed in detail about an "unknown viral pneumonia" surfacing in Wuhan. She was arrested a few months later and Chinese authorities had started a trial against her. Zhang, reportedly, wasn't given a chance to defend herself on Monday, with the international community terming it as an unfair trial.
On Monday, Zhang was found guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", a frequent charge against activists. The hearing was short and reportedly a one-sided affair, following which she was sentenced to four years in jail. According to reports, Zhang looked devastated when the sentence was announced. Her mother, who was also present by her side during the trial, sobbed loudly.
The 37-year-old former lawyer started livestreaming about the then "unknown virus" in February. Her live reports and essays were widely shared on social media platforms, grabbing the attention of Chinese authorities.
Following that, she was detained and arrested in May. Zhang, in protest, began a hunger strike in June and looked considerably weak and frail on Monday. Chinese authorities have also tried to force-fed her via a nasal tube but have mostly failed. Zhang is just one of several citizen journalists who have run into trouble for reporting on Wuhan.
Punished for No Reason
In a video interview with an independent filmmaker before her arrest in May, Zhang said that she decided to visit Wuhan in February after reading an online post by a resident about life in the city during the outbreak. Once she reached there, she started collecting facts and evidences from the hospitals and what was happening on the streets and started reporting on social media.
The reports went viral but came at a cost. Zhang would regularly be threatened but she didn't stop. Finally she went missing on May 14 according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). A day later it was revealed that Zhang had been detained by police in Shanghai, more than 400 miles away.
However, she is not the only one to be jailed for original reporting on coronavirus in Wuhan. So far, China had jailed at least eight virus whistle-blowers as they try to stamp out criticism of the government's response to the outbreak. Several other citizen journalists who reported from Wuhan like Li Zehua, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin went missing earlier this year.
Zhang's sentencing comes just weeks before an international team of experts from World Health Organization is scheduled to arrive in China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
China's communist authorities have a history of putting dissidents on trial in opaque courts between Christmas and New Year to minimize Western scrutiny. Zhang had previously been detained in 2019 for voicing support for activists in Hong Kong.