Chinese citizen journalist jailed for Covid reporting in Wuhan finally set to be released

She was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced to four years in prison for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’

Vishwam Sankaran
Sunday 12 May 2024 13:28
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Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was jailed for her reporting from Wuhan in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, is set to be released after four years.

The lawyer-turned-citizen journalist was in Wuhan in February 2020 to document the Chinese government’s efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus at the start of what was to become a global pandemic.

She spoke about the Chinese government’s efforts to censor criticism against its response to the pandemic on several social media platforms, including YouTube, WeChat, and X – formerly Twitter.

“After 4 years in prison for her independent reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, journalist Zhang Zhan is due for release on 13 May,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shared on X.

China has faced accusations of delaying the release of crucial information during the initial outbreak and attempting to cover up the situation, actions that are believed to have facilitated the virus’s spread to pandemic proportions.

Ms Zhang was arrested in May 2020 and subsequently convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, resulting in a four-year prison sentence. Since then, she has remained incarcerated at Shanghai women’s prison.

Pro-democracy activists hold placards as they show support for12 Hong Kong residents detained in mainland China and former lawyer Zhang Zhan outside the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government on December 28, 2020, in Hong Kong (Getty Images)

In a video posted in February 2020, Ms Zhang said Wuhan was “paralysed because everything is undercover”.

She continued: “That’s what this country is facing now … They imprison us in the name of pandemic prevention and restrict our freedom. We must not talk to strangers, it’s dangerous. So without the truth, everything is meaningless. If we cannot get to the truth, if we cannot break the monopoly of the truth, the world means nothing to us.”

Ms Zhang also posted a video online showing a hospital overflowing with patients during the early phase of the pandemic, a time when much information on the virus’s spread had not yet reached the rest of the world.

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While in prison, she went on a prolonged hunger strike that impacted her health and prompted authorities to feed her forcibly.

Her lawyer told reporters that she became very thin during her stay in prison and had a tube up her nose for forced feeding.

International human rights groups have been calling for Ms Zhang’s release with Amnesty International saying she should not have been jailed in the first place.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s China director, said: “We urge the Chinese authorities to ensure that Zhang Zhan is fully free from 13 May. She must be allowed to move freely, to communicate with people inside and outside of China, and to reunite with her family. She and her family must not be subjected to surveillance or harassment, and the Chinese authorities must also ensure there are no restrictions on her access to medical treatment after her traumatic ordeal in jail.”

Additional reporting with agencies

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