A Chinese citizen journalist who reported on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday, The New York Times reports.
Zhang Zhan, 37, a former lawyer who traveled from her home in Shanghai in February to document the outbreak in Wuhan, shared videos showing packed hospitals and residents struggling amid the area lockdown.
Zhang was critical of the government’s response and accused the country of silencing whistleblowers who warned about the threat of the virus. She was also critical of the harsh lockdown in the area and challenged the official government line on the pandemic.
“The government’s way of managing this city has just been intimidation and threats,” she said in one video. “This is truly the tragedy of this country.”
She abruptly stopped posting or responding to messages in May.
Zhang sentenced to four years:
Zhang was arrested and returned to Shanghai, where she was accused of spreading false information.
Zhang began an extended hunger strike and officials force-fed her through a feeding tube during her incarceration.
Her trial lasted less than three hours on Monday. Prosecutors asked for her to be sentenced to four to five years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Zhang, who appeared in a wheelchair and was “almost unrecognizable from even just a few weeks before,” according to her attorneys, barely spoke during the hearing except to say that speech should not be censored.
Zhang was sentenced to four years.
“Any time the Chinese Communist Party thinks of a case as political, what they use is suppression. Extremely cruel suppression,” Chen Jiangang, a Chinese human rights lawyer, told the Times. “What was Zhang Zhan’s crime? She just went to Wuhan, saw some things, talked about them. That’s it.”
China disappears citizen journalists:
The Chinese government has tight control over the country’s news media and citizen journalists are often censored or arrested.
Zhang is one of at least four citizen journalists to abruptly disappear while reporting from Wuhan this year.
Two of the journalists, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua, were ultimately released.
Another journalist, Fang Bin, is still missing.