Chinese Citizen Journalist Jailed for Reporting on Coronavirus Situation from Wuhan

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A Chinese citizen journalist who’s been detained since May this year for reporting on the novel coronavirus outbreak through social media is facing up to five years in prison.

Zhang Zhan was forcibly taken away and detained by the police for criticizing the Wuhan administration over its handling of the virus. She was picked up on suspicion of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’.

Zhan, a former lawyer, who was hailed for reporting the truth of the Covid-19 crisis has been formally indicted by the Shanghai public prosecutors office for allegedly spreading false information according to an indictment sheet which has now surfaced.

The indictment sheet which was released on Monday alleges that, Zhan had shared ‘false’ information through various text, video clips and online media sharing platforms such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube. She was also accused of accepting interviews with foreign media agencies with whom she maliciously spread false information regarding the virus in Wuhan. Hence a four to five years sentence was recommended.

According to NGO the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) Zhan’s reports included the detention of other freelance reports and harassment of families of victims who were seeking accountability.

Zhan went missing from Wuhan on May 14, a day later it was revealed that she was detained by police in Shanghai which is more than 640km away, the NGO CHRD said. However, she was formally arrested in Shanghai on June 19 this year and almost three months later on September 9, her lawyer was granted a meeting with her, they added.

They also said Zhan has been on a hunger strike as a sign of protest against her arrest. Her lawyer received a call on September 18 that she had been indicted and was formally charged on Friday last week.

This is not the first time Zhang Zhan had a brush with the authorities. According to CHRD, she was detained in 2018 and 2019 for voicing support for activists in Hong Kong. She was detained for more than two months and was reportedly forced to undergo psychiatric assessments while under custody.