Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Department watchdog probing whether Trump aides took gifts meant for foreign officials Biden shows little progress with Abraham Accords on first anniversary Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE on Tuesday called for the release of Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday over her coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Zhang was the first independent journalist to be sentenced to prison in China for covering the pandemic, though several have been detained over their coverage of the outbreak. Her reporting accused the government of failing to inform citizens about the pandemic’s true nature.
“The United States strongly condemns the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sham prosecution and conviction of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan on December 28,” Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday. “We call on the PRC government to release her immediately and unconditionally.”
Pompeo also accused China of manipulating information about the outbreak in Wuhan, adding that it “brutally silenced other brave truth-tellers.” He added that the world had to rely on reports from reporters like Zhang to understand the extent of the pandemic.
“The PRC government’s fear of transparency and its ongoing repression of fundamental freedoms are a sign of weakness, not strength, and a threat to all of us,” Pompeo said. “The United States will always support the right of Chinese citizens to express themselves freely and peacefully.”
Zhan was reportedly found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a charge the Chinese government often uses for human rights activists and other dissidents.
According to CNN, prosecutors alleged the citizen journalist was publishing “large amounts of fake information” and receiving interviews to purposely “stir up the Wuhan COVID-19 situation.”
The comment comes amid simmering tensions between the U.S. and China.
President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic, and his administration has repeatedly accused China of withholding information about the extent of the pandemic in its early days.