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China jails citizen journalist who blew the whistle on its Covid-19 outbreak cover up

(TibetanReview.net, Dec29’20) – China has on Dec 28 jailed Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, at a brief hearing in a Shanghai court for allegedly “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for her reporting in the chaotic initial stages of the Covid-29 outbreak. Her lawyer has said it was a rushed hearing with little information on what exactly she was accused of having done. The charge against her is frequently used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Her live reports and essays were shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistleblowers so far as they defang criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak, noted the AFP Dec 28.

The Pudong District People’s Court in Shanghai said Zhang Zhan had spread “false remarks” online, but the prosecution did not fully divulge its evidence in court, one of her lawyers, Zhang Keke, has said.

“We had no way of understanding what exactly Zhang Zhan was accused of doing,” he has added, describing it as “a speedy, rushed hearing.”

The report said concerns were mounting over the health of 37-year-old Zhang, who began a hunger strike in June and has been force-fed via a nasal tube.

The report cited her legal team as saying her health was in decline and she suffered from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain, and that she had appeared in court in a wheelchair.

The defendant’s mother sobbed loudly as the verdict was read out, Ren Quanniu, another member of Zhang’s defence team, was cited as having told reporters who were barred from entering the court.

“She said when I visited her (last week): ‘If they give me a heavy sentence then I will refuse food until the very end.’… She thinks she will die in prison,” Ren had said before the trial.

The report said Zhang was critical of the early response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government “didn’t give people enough information, then simply locked down the city”.

“This is a great violation of human rights,” she had written.

Rights groups and embassies had drawn attention to her case. Diplomats from several countries were denied requests to monitor the hearing, the report said.

“Zhang Zhan’s case raises serious concerns about media freedom in China,” the British embassy in Beijing was quoted as saying, urging “China to release all those detained for their reporting.”

But according to Leo Lan, research and advocacy consultant at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders NGO, authorities “want to use her case as an example to scare off other dissidents from raising questions about the pandemic situation in Wuhan earlier this year”.

Zhang was stated to be the first of a group of four citizen journalists detained by authorities after reporting from Wuhan to face trial.

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