Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in jail due to her reports of the coronavirus outbreak that started spreading across Wuhan late last year. A Shanghai court ruled her guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in the chaotic early stages of the virus outbreak.
Humanitarian critics, including the UN Human Rights office, spoke out against Zhang’s ruling, calling it an embarrassment for uncensored journalism and suggested Chinese authorities didn’t want any COVID-19 news drawing any attention or scrutiny from the west during the holiday season.
“We are deeply concerned by the 4-year prison sentence imposed on citizen journalist Zhang Zhan. We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to [COVID-19] & continue to call for her release,” the UN Human Rights office tweeted.
The indictment sheet shows that Zhang has been charged with disseminating false information. She released a series of blog reports and videos through WeChat, Twitter, and Youtube during the Wuhan lockdown. They also called her out for “maliciously speculating” on COVID-19 and taking interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times.
During the trial, Zhang denied the charges, saying that all of her COVID-19 outbreak reports were based on first-hand accounts from locals. She also called out authorities for violating her basic right as a citizen journalist and called for the release of other reporters who have been arrested since reporting from Wuhan.
Chinese journalist Chen Quishi had been missing since early February after reporting out of Wuhan. People accused Chinese authorities of quarantining Quishi “by force until an eerie video popped up on YouTube by one of his friends, saying Quishi is in “good health” but is under government supervision. He had been moved to Qingdao where his parents reside.
Since being arrested, detainees have been blocked from seeing their chosen lawyers or contacting their families. Some court trials aren’t being broadcast and other reporters are being kept in detention locations that remain secret.
Authorities are also intentionally notifying families late about trial dates, giving them no room to travel or complete quarantine in time to attend. This is what happened to the families of 10 Hong Kong citizens who were trying to illegally border cross and reach Taiwan by boat. Their family members were told of the trial on Friday, too late to travel to Shenzhen, and complete quarantine to attend.
“By holding the trial of the 12 in secret, barring the media and the families from attending, the Chinese authorities are disregarding basic human rights, acting against the ‘sunshine judiciary’ principle they have been promoting,” said family members of the Hong Kong citizens.
Early whistleblowers have long been under attack by Chinese authorities for reporting about COVID-19, even though their own party withheld information from their citizens, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This triggered a level of public outrage over the government’s suppression of information during the early days of the pandemic.
Reporters have been censured, reprimanded, or went missing by the Chinese Communist Party for simply using their free speech and now President-elect Biden wants to become best friends with them?