Story at a glance

  • Authorities detained Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer turned journalist, in May after she published a video critical of China's efforts to contain the virus.
  • Zhang reported on numerous stories, including the detention of independent journalists by authorities and the “harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicenter” of the pandemic.
  • Several groups have called for her release, including Chinese Human Rights Defenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Coalition for Women in Journalism.

A Chinese citizen journalist could be imprisoned for up to five years over her coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, The Guardian reports. 

Authorities detained Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer turned journalist, in May after she published a video critical of China's efforts to contain the virus in the central Chinese city. She was accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” for live-streaming from Wuhan via Twitter and YouTube — both of which are banned in China — and other social media platforms. The charge is often used to target critics of the Chinese government.


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Zhang traveled to Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have started, in early February and reported on numerous stories, including the detention of independent journalists by authorities and the “harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicenter” of the pandemic, according to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). 

She has been held in a detention facility in Shanghai for six months and was formally indicted on charges of spreading false information. An indictment sheet released Monday said she sent “false information through text, video and other media through the Internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube,” according to The Guardian. 

Zhang was also charged with conducting interviews with media from overseas and “maliciously” speculating on the coronavirus outbreak. 

Authorities recommended that she spend four to five years in prison. 

According to CHRD, Zhang has been on a hunger strike since September to protest her detainment and has refused to admit guilt. Detention center authorities have reportedly forcibly fed her. 

Several groups have called for her release, including CHRD, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Coalition for Women in Journalism. 

“China professes pride in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but appears deathly afraid of allowing independent journalists like Zhang Zhan to freely tell the story of what is happening,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said back in May. 

Zhang is one of several journalists who have been arrested over the course of the pandemic due to their coverage of the outbreak in Wuhan. China has increasingly taken a harder line on dissent. 


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Published on Nov 16, 2020