China Arrests Wuhan Citizen Journalist for ‘Picking Quarrels’

Zhang Zhan was arrested for allegedly “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a catch-all charge often used to detain dissidents in China. Photo: Handout

Chinese police arrested a citizen journalist reporting on the coronavirus from the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, last week on charges of public disturbance, her father confirmed on Tuesday.

The South China Morning Post reported that the family of Zhang Zhan was notified on Friday of her detention in Shanghai for allegedly “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” after local prosecutors approved her arrest. Authorities in the country regularly use the phrase to justify the persecution of journalists and political dissidents.

The 37-year-old former lawyer is currently in police custody in Shanghai’s Pudong district, with her family telling the Post they are extremely worried about her, partly because of their low social and economic status.

“I’m very worried about her health and the detention conditions, and her mother is heartbroken,” her 63-year-old father told the outlet. “We don’t have any connections or money to get her out – we’re in an utterly powerless situation.”

Zhang reportedly traveled to Wuhan in February to cover life in the city and the response of authorities, just as the coronavirus outbreak was hitting its peak in China but before it had spread on a global scale. Part of her coverage, which was that of a citizen journalist rather than a credentialed news reporter, involved live streaming what she saw in the city on social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube, both of which are banned in China.

As well as covering events on the ground, Zhang also wrote an article criticizing the draconian lockdown measures imposed by authorities in response to the outbreak, arguing that they violated people’s human rights. In that same article, she also accused them of covering up the severity of the outbreak and complained about the widespread censorship of media in China.

The arrest of journalists and political dissidents of the Chinese Communist Party is so common in China that there are too many specific examples to list. A report last month found that the regime has jailed around 500 people since the beginning of 2020 for talking out of line about the coronavirus and China’s responsibility for it.

The study, carried out by the U.S.-based China Digital Times (CDT), included notorious incidents including the muzzling of Wuhan doctors Li Wenliang and Ai Fen and the lesser-known arrests of journalists and ordinary citizens whose disappearance went under the radar of international media.

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