Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Wednesday provided a dramatic insider account of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan’s defiant stand in a Shanghai courtroom against the judge who sentenced her to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and starting trouble.”
Zhang was kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the “crime” of reporting on the coronavirus pandemic from its point of origin, the city of Wuhan.
Without identifying its sources, RFA described events inside the closed courtroom on Tuesday, when a wheelchair-bound Zhang initially refused to answer the judge’s questions:
The judge then instructed the clerk to record that she hadn’t replied, whereupon Zhang retorted: “Doesn’t your conscience tell you that what you are doing is wrong, in putting me in the dock?”
The judge said nothing in reply, and the trial proceeded to the stage where the defendant is informed of their rights and obligations in court.
Asked if she had anything to say, Zhang replied: “I’m not going to answer you until you correct your mistake.”
She continued: “It’s not I who is on trial here today, it’s you.”
Zhang later referred to the court process as “your judicial game.”
Zhang argued that even during the notoriously repressive Han Dynasty two thousand years ago, “it wasn’t a crime to criticize the government.” She denounced the judge’s efforts to interrogate her over her video reports from Wuhan as “absurd” and defended the authenticity of her reports, noting they were all first-hand interviews with people on the streets of Wuhan.
“If the state prosecutor wants to censor the people, they can take anyone to court,” she pointed out.
If RFA’s source was inside Zhang’s legal team, they provided the transcripts on background, because they publicly indicated they are forbidden to discuss the trial. As one of her lawyers said, using coded language generally taken as a sign of government pressure, “it is not convenient to accept interviews with foreign media.”
Zhang, 37, is in a wheelchair due to a combination of abuse by her captors and her attempt to protest her imprisonment with a hunger strike. The governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union have demanded her release, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denouncing her prosecution as a “sham” this week.
“A British diplomat tried to attend her trial, but was not allowed access. We urge China to release all those detained for their reporting,” the UK embassy to China said on Monday.
“According to credible sources, Ms. Zhang has been subject to torture and ill-treatment during her detention and her health condition has seriously deteriorated. It is crucial that she receives adequate medical assistance,” an EU spokesperson said on Tuesday, reiterating calls for the release of Zhang and other dissidents held by the Chinese government.
The BBC on Wednesday hailed Zhang as a “rebellious soul” and published a video of her last known interview before she was arrested in May. The video includes some clips of the reports she filed from Wuhan, along with Zhang’s testimony that she was told by the police to stop interviewing people in the city or attempting to film coronavirus patients at hospitals. Zhang said many citizens of Wuhan were terrified to talk with her or show their faces on camera.
“I think this is the true reality. So why can’t I film the truth?” Zhang asked, shortly before receiving her answer at the hands of the Communist Party’s brutal enforcers.