Chinese citizen journalist jailed for live-streaming Wuhan coronavirus outbreak

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was sentenced in a brief hearing in a Shanghai court for allegedly

A Chinese citizen journalist was jailed for four years for her live broadcast from Wuhan when the Covid-19 outbreak broke out, her lawyer said Monday, almost a year after details of an “unknown viral pneumonia” emerged in the city. central China.

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was sentenced in a brief hearing in a Shanghai court for allegedly “sparking fights and causing trouble” for her reports on the chaotic early stages of the outbreak.

His reports and live essays were widely shared on social media platforms in February, drawing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistleblowers as they defend criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.

Beijing has congratulated itself on “extraordinary” success in controlling the virus within its borders, with a recovering economy, while much of the rest of the world stutters through painful shutdowns and an increase in the number of cases a year. after the start of the pandemic in Wuhan.

Controlling the flow of information during an unprecedented global health crisis has been instrumental in allowing China’s communist authorities to reframe the narrative in their favor.

But that has come at a serious cost to anyone who pokes holes in that story.

“Zhang Zhan seemed devastated when the sentence was announced,” Ren Quanniu, one of Zhang’s defense attorneys, told reporters, confirming the four-year jail sentence in front of Shanghai’s Pudong New District People’s Court on Monday. the morning.

His mother sobbed aloud when the verdict was read, Ren added.

Concerns are mounting for the health of Zhang, 37, who went on a hunger strike in June and has been force-fed through a nasal tube.

“She said when I visited her (last week): ‘If they give me a severe sentence, I will refuse the food until the end.

“It is an extreme method of protesting against this society and this environment.”

China’s communist authorities have a history of prosecuting dissidents in opaque courts between Christmas and New Years to minimize Western scrutiny.

The trial comes just weeks before an international team of experts from the World Health Organization is expected to arrive in China to investigate the origins of Covid-19.

Another lawyer said that Zhang’s health was deteriorating and he was suffering from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain.

“Restricted 24 hours a day, she needs help to go to the bathroom,” wrote Zhang Keke, who visited her on Christmas Day, in a note circulated on social media.

“She feels psychologically drained, as if every day is a torment.”

Zhang criticized the initial response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government “did not give people enough information, then it just closed the city.”

“This is a gross violation of human rights,” he wrote.

The court said she had spread “false comments” online, according to Zhang Keke.

Human rights groups have also drawn attention to her case.

The authorities “want to use their case as an example to scare off other dissidents and prevent them from raising questions about the pandemic situation in Wuhan earlier this year,” said Leo Lan, research and advocacy consultant at the Chinese NGO Defenders of the Human rights.

Zhang is the first to face the trial of a group of four citizen journalists detained by authorities earlier this year after reporting from Wuhan.

Previous attempts by AFP to contact the other three, Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua, were unsuccessful.

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