Zhang Zhan’s trial began and ended December 28 with the Chinese citizen journalist getting a four-year sentence.
Zhan was charged and convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” because of her reporting on the coronavirus from the ground in Wuhan.
In February, Zhan started reporting on the pandemic, but in May, Chinese authorities snatched her up.
Zhan’s work included covering how the declining passenger numbers impacted taxi drivers, an inside look at a hospital, and unemployment in the wake of the lockdown.
She also spoke out against the intimidation of local people by the urban management police, or chengguan, and about a sense of despair at life in China, Radio Free Asia reported.
The New York Times said it reviewed Zhan’s indictment, and it accused her of “making up lies and spreading false information.” Plus, it mentioned that she had given interviews to foreign media, including Radio Free Asia and the Epoch Times.
One way Zhan reportedly ticked off the Chinese government was by reporting that Wuhan citizens were forced to pay a fee to get COVID-19 tests they thought would be free.
Another way was by revealing that neighborhood committees sent rotten vegetables to residents during a city-wide lockdown.
Zhan wasn’t officially charged until June 19.
Zhang Zhan’s trial
After getting locked up, Zhan went on hunger strike to protest her detention but authorities shackled and force fed.
Before the trial, one of her Zhang’s lawyers forewarned that she didn’t plan to participate in the proceeding because she considered the ordeal to be an insult.
At trial, NBC News said Zhang’s lawyer described her as “physically fragile.” And true to her word, Zhang didn’t speak or show any reaction to the court’s decision to convict her. She also didn’t answer when asked if she wanted to appeal her sentence.
According to media reports, picking quarrels and provoking trouble is a charge commonly lodged in China to target critics of the Chinese Communist Party. It can carry a sentence up to five years, and chance of beating the charge are slim.
In 2019, China’s conviction rate 99.9%, NYT reported.
#China: We are deeply concerned by the 4-year prison sentence imposed on citizen journalist Zhang Zhan. We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) December 28, 2020
China crackdown on coronavirus coverage
NYT explained Zhang and others were able to take advantage of a window when the government was too preoccupied with managing to virus to fully focus on censorship.
But in short order that changed, and China started cracking down on people who were sharing a perspective that countered the official narrative.
A citizen journalist named Fang Bin, was placed under surveillance, and later disappeared. Freelance journalists Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua also vanished.
Between Jan. 1 and March 26, China reportedly penalized nearly 900 internet users across the country for online activity related to sharing information related to the coronavirus.
Among them were three volunteers who had created an online archive of censored news articles, and later came up missing.
Later, two of those volunteers were charged with none other than the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Those individuals haven’t been tried yet.
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