China: Journalist Faces Five Years in Prison for Coronavirus Reporting from Wuhan

TOPSHOT - A memorial for Dr Li Wenliang, who was the whistleblower of the Coronavirus, Covid-19, that originated in Wuhan, China and caused the doctors death in that city, is pictured outside the UCLA campus in Westwood, California, on February 15, 2020. - The death toll from the new coronavirus …
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Chinese authorities indicted a Shanghai-based citizen journalist for allegedly sending “false information” after she reported on the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan, China, early this year, a prosecution document released on Monday and seen by the Guardian revealed.

According to the indictment sheet, Zhang Zhan, 37, is accused of sending “false information through text, video and other media through the Internet media such as WeChat [Chinese messaging and social media app], Twitter and YouTube.”

“She also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] epidemic,” the document stated.

A former lawyer, Zhang was arrested in May following months of continuous online reporting on Wuhan’s coronavirus outbreak via social media platforms. Her reporting was highly critical of municipal authorities’ handling of the outbreak. Authorities accused Zhang of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a crime regularly used to jail political dissidents in China. The charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Zhang’s citizen reports included documentation of “the detentions of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicenter,” according to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

In a letter posted online on February 16, Zhang expressed criticism of the Wuhan government during the city’s coronavirus outbreak:

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.

News of Zhang’s formal indictment comes four days after Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on an alleged “information blackout” on Zhang’s case on November 13. The reports included claims that Zhang’s mother “was yet to see any details of the indictment” and that one of Zhang’s defense lawyers had been removed from the case.

Zhang is currently being held in a detention facility in Shanghai where authorities reportedly force-fed her in late September in response to a hunger strike, according to RFA. More recent updates regarding Zhang’s health have not been released to the public.

Authorities previously detained Zhang in September 2019 after she participated in a Shanghai demonstration supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities at the time charged Zhang with “disturbing the public order” for marching through Shanghai’s Peoples Square with an umbrella that read, “End socialism, Communist Party down.” Zhang was later jailed for over 60 days.

Human rights organizations decry China’s CCP-controlled justice system for its high conviction rate – about 99 percent – and for often denying defendants full legal assistance.

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