Amnesty International has decried the four year prison sentence handed down to Zhang Zhan, a citizen-journalist, by a Chinese court on Monday. She was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” charges sometimes used by authorities to quell dissent.
Zhang, a 37-year-old former lawyer, had reported on the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan beginning in February. Zhang posted videos to YouTube of interviews with Wuhan residents. Zhang’s videos also depicted hospitals, empty city streets and train stations, and a crematorium. These reports challenged the official narrative of the outbreak provided by the Chinese government.
Zhang was detained in May and was formally charged in November. She has been on a hunger strike since June, believing that the government has violated her freedom of speech.
The Coalition for Women in Journalism issued a statement saying they were utterly dismayed with the court’s decision,” while Chinese Human Rights Defenders called the four-year sentence “a challenge to free press and free expression.” The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights tweeted that it is “deeply concerned” with her sentence, and said it was “an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19” and called for Zhang’s release.
Zhang is not the only citizen-journalist to go missing after reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. Other whistleblowers, including Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi, and Li Zehua, also disappeared. While Chen and Li have subsequently reappeared, Fang continues to be missing.
One of Zhang’s lawyers, Ren Quanniu, said they will likely appeal Zhang’s sentence