SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A Chinese citizen-journalist who covered the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year in Wuhan, central China, was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday for “causing unrest,” announced his lawyer.
Zhang Zhan, 37, is the first person to be tried for reporting on the situation at the height of the health crisis earlier this year.
She is one of a small group of individuals whose accounts of overcrowded hospitals and empty streets in Wuhan have described a more dire situation than Chinese authorities were saying at the time.
“We will probably appeal,” added his lawyer, Ren Quanniu. “Ms. Zhang believes that she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of expression,” he said before her trial, which was held in Shanghai seven months after her arrest.
Foreign journalists were denied access to the interior of the court “due to the epidemic”, according to the official explanation provided to them.
Former lawyer living in Shanghai, Zhang Zhan arrived in Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic in Hubei province, on February 1.
She posted short interviews with residents on YouTube, as well as comments and images from a crematorium, hospitals and the city’s Institute of Virology.
Arrested in mid-May, she went on a hunger strike at the end of June but, according to her lawyer, was force-fed. Her health is worrying: she suffers from headaches, dizziness, stomach pain and her blood pressure is low.
Other citizen journalists have also been reported missing in China, including Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua.
No information about Fang Bin is available. Li Zehua reappeared in April in a video uploaded to YouTube in which he says he was forcibly quarantined. Chen Qiushi was released from prison but according to a friend of his lives under surveillance and no longer speaks in public.
Chinese authorities have censored testimonials and critical accounts about their initial response to the health crisis, and warnings have been issued to doctors and whistleblowers.
The official media point out that China, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has succeeded in containing the virus. – Reuters