China Arrests Citizen Journalist in Wuhan for ‘Picking Quarrels’ with Regime Criticism

In this picture taken on January 27, 2020 police officers wearing protective facemasks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in Wuhan, secure an area at the Beijing railway station. - The deadly new coronavirus that has broken out in China, 2019-nCoV, will afflict a minimum …
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) police in Shanghai arrested Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist and former lawyer, after criticizing the regime’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Monday.

The arrest occurred last week and resulted in charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a “crime” the CCP regularly uses to jail political dissidents. Authorities notified Zhang’s family of her arrest on May 15, who then shared the news with her friends. Before then, Zhang’s friends said they had been unable to contact her since May 14. She is currently still in police custody.

Though from Shanghai, Zhang had been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan – where the Wuhan coronavirus was first documented late last year – since February 1, according to the SCMP. Until May 13, the citizen journalist had been regularly posting commentary videos to social media, including platforms officially banned in China like Twitter and YouTube. In some of her commentary, Zhang has been critical of CCP authorities’ response to the coronavirus outbreak.

On February 16, Zhang scrutinized the government’s handling of the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic in a letter posted online. Her analysis was critical, accusing the CCP of sacrificing citizens’ human rights in its extreme efforts to contain the Wuhan coronavirus or, in her opinion, to appear to:

The government isolates individuals from the outside world in the name of treatment. In the name of maintaining stability, the number of infections and deaths is covered up. The media is kept under control in the name of ‘positive energy.’ [The authorities] are coercively and violently ordering and depriving people of their basic human and property rights.

According to the report, Zhang was previously arrested by authorities in September 2019 after participating in a Shanghai demonstration supporting the ongoing pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The CCP authorities charged her with “disturbing the public order” after she marched through Shanghai’s Peoples Square while brandishing an umbrella that read, “End socialism, Communist Party down.” Zhang was jailed for over 60 days.

On May 11, another Shanghai political dissident was released by authorities following his arrest on May 10. Zhang Xuezhong was “taken away” by Shanghai police last Sunday after he posted a letter that also criticized CCP authorities’ response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. His letter was framed in the context of a need for free speech, inherently stifled by the CCP’s political system, he argued. Zhang Xuezhong, like Zhang Zhan, was also a lawyer. He has defended human rights activists in China and also teaches constitutional law as a professor.

“I saw so many friends expressing concern for my current situation. Thank you very much. I am now at home and all is well. Good night everyone. I need to get some sleep first, apologies for not being able to reply to your messages,” Zhang wrote on social media Monday.

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